Saturday, May 26, 2012

Is the "follow the money" argument correct?

In the climate science, the answer is Yes. Why?

I count among the most thoughtful sources of science news for the most well-informed non-expert readers. However, what John Timmer wrote on Thursday (and what was mindlessly endorsed by Hank Campbell) simply looks unbelievable:
Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done (also at Wired)
Timmer primarily attempts to criticize the 2009 document by Joanne Nova (yup, it's 2012 now: it doesn't look like the likes of John Timmer are too up-to-date or fast when they try to follow what's going on):
Climate money: The climate industry: $79 billion so far – trillions to come (PDF, Jo Nova for SPPI, 2009)
The figure refers to the money spent by the U.S. government "directly" to combat "climate change". It seems obvious to me that the actual costs of the policies – including the indirect costs paid by private subjects (that were forced to do things inefficiently and buy more expensive equivalents of various products and energy) – is already counted in hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. (and almost certainly trillions of dollars globally).

But we want to talk about the effect of the smaller, more direct part of the money which is close to the core of this question: the effect of money on the researchers. Timmer thinks that there's almost none.


Timmer admits that the green industry has gotten into the same situation that's been previously attributed to many other industries: it has a financial interest to influence the beliefs in a certain way.

(In this respect, the only difference between the green ideology and the claims naively expected to be good for the oil industry is that the alarmists have gotten about 1,000 times more money than the skeptics.)

But Timmer's key claim is that the money can only influence the public perception, not the actual research. Give me a break!

He says that the sensible people "misread" the following graph of the funding:

The direct climate change expenditures went to $7 billion a year. Timmer tries to create fog by saying that most of the money goes to technologies, primarily to ludicrous sources of energy such as the pinwheels and solar panels. You see that in recent years, the light blue "climate technology" curve has been increasing more rapidly than the red "climate science" curve as the climate change investments started to switch from bad science to the actual bad policies, from theory to practice.

But Timmer ultimately admits that the funding for the research is still about $2 billion a year these days but, he emphasizes, it hasn't grown too much since the early 1990s. But note that the previous sentence contains the words "since the early 1990s" and that's the very main point in this discussion.

In the scientific community, the corruption began exactly in 1988±1. It began with James Hansen's notorious 1988 testimony in the U.S. Congress in which he predicted a 3-times-faster warming for the following 25 years (take e.g. the 1985-2012 jump in the scenario A – which was followed because the CO2 emissions continued to rise exponentially – by 1.2 °C) than what was actually observed later (0.4 °C in the 27-year window).

You may see that as early as in 1989, the funding for the climate change research stood at around $200 million a year; the 1989 budget hasn't reflected Hansen's testimony yet. It grew discontinuously and it grew purely because of the politicization of the discipline. The funding got tripled within a year, quadrupled within two years, and grew by an order of magnitude within 2 decades. The climate change hysteria continued to grow exponentially between the early 1990s and late 2000s (a few years ago) but it was mostly a growth in the media; the scientific community got already bribed and reshaped in the late 1980s and very early 1990s.

Is John Timmer really unable to see this trivial fact encoded by the graph?

Is he unable to draw the obvious conclusions? It was people like James Hansen – I don't claim it was only Hansen – who convinced the politicians, the sponsors of this "applied research" that doesn't really have any practical applications except for the psychological ones, that the climate science was an important discipline which it's not. And the only argument in favor of the importance of the discipline was the ludicrous claim that we should be actually afraid of some global warming in coming decades and the scientists may tell us what awaits us and/or how to save ourselves.

Whether you believe this superstitious pseudoscientific apocalyptic claim or not, pure logic should be enough for you to see that all the "premium" that the climate research is getting today above those $200 million – OK, it could be $300 or $400 million including the "ordinary" increases that would have occurred before today even in the absence of the climate panic – critically depends on the opinion that there exists an important and potentially dangerous process called "global warming" or "climate change" or "climate disruption" or "capitalism" or whatever word the climate change alarmists are using for their caricature of what is going on.

If people agreed that there is no problem here, the funding would stand at (or go back to) something like $200 million a year. Does anyone really deny it? Is anyone really ignorant about this elementary impact of the "problem" on the funding? It's basic school maths.

This is the macroscopic explanation of what's going on with the money and what the increase may be explained by. Everything is totally clear. However, one may also analyze the changes in the funding and their correlation with the changes of the character of the research microscopically, by considering the behavior of individual scientists, bureaucrats in funding agencies, journalists, and others.

Everyone who has worked in science knows that most professional scientists do care about the money. It is surely not the only thing they care about but it doesn't change the fact that it is a major thing they care about – much like most people, after all. When they're offered jobs, a huge part chooses the job with the highest or near-highest salary. Many scientists write grant applications most of the time in order to get additional funds. Some of them even enjoy it, a fact I find perverse but it's how the reality works.

When I said that $2.0 - $0.2 = $1.8 billion out of the $2 billion (i.e. 90%) in funding depends on the acknowledged existence of a "problem", it was the overall description that adds the belief in a "problem" at all relevant institutions and that adds the money paid to all the researchers. But of course, the causation works microscopically, too. One may figure out the small terms that add up to those $1.8 billion paid for the distortion of the climate science every year.

A climate scientist looking for a job knows that he or she may have a problem if he or she openly admits the belief that there is no "climate problem". Because "some" people want a job, most of them choose to say things about the big questions ("Is there a problem?") that give them a vast advantage on the job market over those who say the truth. Everyone knows that the politicians pay the climate research mostly because of the rather widely spread opinion that "there is a problem". The change of the funding between the 1980s and 1990s is no coincidence.

This consideration – by almost every person on the job market and everyone who wants new grants which is almost everyone – distorts the statements by people who may believe other things. However, it doesn't mean that the hypocrisy explains 100% of the relationship between alarmism and funding.

Many people who are employed as climate scientists aren't hypocritical; instead, they really believe the superstitions about the climate problem because they're honestly stupid or amazingly brainwashed or other things. There's no hypocrisy here so you may say that science is preserving its integrity etc. But it's not really the case. Aside from the hypocrisy of some "bribed" researchers, the problem here is that most of these "genuinely believing" researchers shouldn't have become scientists at all.

They're incompetent, they're stupid, they're amazing morons; they could be fine as activists climbing the trees or sleeping in front of the power plants but they're simply not good as scientists. In a meritocratic community, they wouldn't have been hired. Everyone who is afraid of the end of the civilization caused by climate change in 2055 or so is a breathtaking moron. Many of those folks were hired by someone else because such an employee – despite his or her incompetence as a scientist – was convenient for the ability of the research teams to preserve or increase the funding from the politicians to those who study the "problem". In the existing environment of grants, a stupid believer who will obediently say the things that are expected is (imagine some kind of Alexander Ač if you need to think about a specific example) – in the role of a new employee – a better bet for the funding of your team than a smart big shot scientist whose research could end up with inconvenient results or who could be able to extra inconvenient interpretations out of some research that could be the same.

There are many other detailed mechanisms by which the funding pressures are influencing what is finally published in the climate science literature – and what the climate scientists say about this literature to the media (the latter may be even more important for the "cause" than the former). When you add all the effects, you obviously get the overall counting we have deduced at the very beginning: 90% of the money in the climate change research is paid to the people for helping to support the idea that there is a "climate problem".

Let me emphasize that this claim doesn't mean that 90% of the sentences in climate papers are sentences about a "problem" or "man-made global warming" or "evil CO2". Of course that it is not the case. It would be really silly to pay $2 billion for writing these sentences billions of times a year. Not even the most stupid laymen would think that it makes the case for the "theory of a problem" more convincing.

Instead, what those 90% of the climate research money is paid for is to create the illusion that the "climate problem" is a serious science backed by people who look just like proper, honest scientists and who are able to say and write other sentences than just the "sky is falling" – and the illusion that the claims about the "climate problem" are actually supported by serious science. They may look like proper scientists to you but if they do, it proves that you have no clue. Many of these folks aren't doing serious good-quality science at all and those who do have no results that would support the idea of a "climate problem".

Timmer tries to attack Jo Nova's words about the solar research, too:
But maybe that money is somehow being directed in a biased manner, distributed in a way that ensures the current consensus is supported. "Where is the Department of Solar Influence or the Institute of Natural Climate Change?" Nova asks, elsewhere claiming, "Thousands of scientists have been funded to find a connection between human carbon emissions and the climate. Hardly any have been funded to find the opposite."

This displays an almost incomprehensible misunderstanding of how science research works. There are institutes that are dedicated to studying the Sun—the Naval Research Laboratory has one, as does NASA. But those institutes are focused on learning about what the Sun actually does, not squeezing what we learn into some preconceived agenda.
But this asymmetry is the real problem, the very reason why the climate science is a corrupt field. That's exactly the reason why Jo Nova criticizes the situation! As Timmer repeats, there are no full-fledged institutes that consider the influence of the Sun etc. on the questions about "climate change" because it's been pre-determined (without research) that "the Sun shall not mess up with the climate that was created to our image" even though the climate change that has a solar origin is obviously at least as important as the climate change that has a CO2-related or any other origin.

So the funding is distributed in such a way that the effects involving the Sun cannot be officially studied – or they cannot be interpreted when it comes to their impact on the big "climate debate" – while effects involving the CO2 not only can be studied and interpreted but such (bogus) research and (mis)interpretations are openly encouraged and that's what the U.S. taxpayer's $1.8 billion a year are really paid for.

That's why this entire amount of $1.8 billion a year is being paid for distortion the people's – and scientists' – opinion on the question whether there is a "climate problem" (in the U.S.). Timmer's paragraph continues as follows:
For decades, solar activity has been trending downwards, even as temperatures have continued to rise. It's not that the researchers are being induced or compelled to some sort of biased interpretation of the data. Reality just happens to have a bias.
But this is just a layman's opinion, an opinion of a John Timmer who has no idea about these scientific matters; it's just one of the numerous results of those $1.8 billion a year on the laymen's perception of science.

Science says something completely different. The impact of the Sun's internal dynamics on the Earth's climate is well-documented. It's been relevant on very long time scale; it's been almost certainly responsible for the majority of the climate variations between the medieval warm period and the little ice age; lots of correlations between the 20th century global mean temperature and various quantities parameterizing the Sun strongly suggest that the influence of the Sun's activity is significant even at the decadal time scale. The evidence doesn't boil down to some ad hoc correlations in graphs; actual mechanisms behind these influences are roughly known and have been demonstrated in the lab.

Timmer reveals his flagrant dishonesty and predetermined answers by every single piece of his sentences. For example, he says that the solar activity has been trending downwards. First, it is not really true that it's been "trending downwards". The solar activity primarily changes in approximately 11-year-old sunspot cycles. The graph of sunspot observations shows a clear rise started in 1810 or so (when it was really cold) and then around 1880 (another local minimum) and the changes of the solar maxima were somewhat chaotic. But the only "recent clear decrease" occurred between the 1950s and the 1960s; and indeed, the climate saw some cooling at those times. In most of the century, the solar activity went up; the trend is positive. It may have been stable or go down in a recent decade but that's also OK because, despite some misinformation in various news outlets, there hasn't been any warming in the last 10 years.

This sunspot graph's correlation with the global mean temperature is rather high but it doesn't mean that it's the best explanation that heliophysics may offer for the temperature changes in the 20th century. There are other quantities describing the Sun than just the sunspots – various ways to measure the Sun's magnetic field and its detailed properties. Some of them may be better proxies for the temperature. There's a rich literature on these issues and it's being studied by some of the top experts in climatology – and, in fact, also by the only climate scientists at CERN (at least whenever the CERN climate scientists become able and courageous to circumvent the CERN boss' order not to draw inconvenient conclusions from their research).

Those insights about the Sun's (and cosmic rays') influence on the climate (much like the influences of pretty much all other factors that have been deciding about climate change for billions of years) just don't make it to journalists such as John Timmer – because, you know, there aren't $1.8 billion funds every year to achieve such things – and if these insights ever get to the science writers etc., these science writers are already so preconceived and brainwashed that they turn off their brains and refuse to learn any science. So people like John Timmer continue to have no clue about climatology – they keep on believing in the Young-Earth-creationism opinion that the climate change began a century ago or so – and even though this would normally disqualify them as general science writers, no one really cares because this deliberate ignorance and bias has become the new normal and tons of other people defend similar Timmers against everyone who just points out that as a climate science writer, Timmer totally sucks.

I also want to say that even if the solar activity were "trending down", it wouldn't follow that this change can't be the cause of the rising temperatures e.g. in the last 35 years. There also exist negative numbers and the true mechanisms could have the opposite sign than the naive one. Similarly, we know that some clouds are cooling the surface but other clouds prefer to heat it. The analogy in the solar radiation may discriminate between the solar radiation (and cosmic rays) at different frequencies or energies, and so on. Even if the solar activity were "trending downwards", it wouldn't be a reason not to study the influence of the solar activity on the Earth's climate. So even in that case, Timmer's explanation why the solar institutes shouldn't study the influence of the Sun on the Earth's climate would be scientifically flawed.

But arbitrarily weak, shaky, or downright illogical counter-arguments or talking points are always enough for the folks such as John Timmer to instantly abandon any theory that is inconvenient from the "big picture" viewpoint while arbitrarily weak, shaky, or downright illogical excuses are also enough for them to protect their belief that the CO2-dominated theory of the climate change is the right one even though its strong forms have already been falsified by thousands of observations. They have already decided what their "reality" looks like. Their "reality" has a liberal bias. Many of those people declare this belief openly and repeatedly. It's the basic assumption that determines the way how they look at any evidence and whether they look at it at all.

But the genuine reality doesn't have any political bias. It is unbiased. Individual collections of scientific insights in the past may have been closer to some philosophies or ideologies than others; but there is absolutely no way to know whether such correlations will be preserved or will be reverted by the discoveries that science makes tomorrow or in 2015 or in 2050. Only unbiased scientific research may decide.

Again, Timmer's (and other people's) refusal to even consider scientific explanations that disagree with their thesis that "reality has a liberal bias" is not just about some cute childish religious belief in which someone doesn't want to abandon her belief in Santa Claus. It's also about those $1.8 billion a year that get redistributed for the promotion of a "climate problem" in the U.S. every year. The money flows – and the flows of influence, power, and social status in general that people care about as well (and various ad hoc coalitions meant to preserve the interests of the global warming orthodoxy) – are very complicated and multi-dimensional but the overall amount of money paid to distort the big questions of the climate science is known. It is $1.8 billion a year. We could estimate the fraction of Timmer's own income that was paid for his being compatible with the theory of a "climate problem". In absolute dollars, the amount would be rather high.

John Timmer, Hank Campbell, and others should be ashamed.

In proper science, money doesn't have to distort the research at all. Money is actually important to do lots of hard work etc. Especially hard and boring work in science is just like any other work and the money is what stimulates it and helps it to make progress. And this description is almost entirely the case of many disciplines that haven't been corrupted yet, at least not "throughly". To find out X reliable scientific insights costs some money, Y, and X is an increasing function of Y for every "uniform type" of insights.

However, the amount of money one gets has to depend on the quality, accuracy, and quantity of the work one does; when it primarily depends on the character of the answers and their correlations with the thesis that "reality has a liberal bias" or with the "new official religion of the Western society", which is how the global warming doctrine was called by our president Klaus, then the money is clearly a factor helping to distort the science – as well as journalism, government's technological investments, and many other things.

Audits and progress

At the end of his article, Timmer says that science doesn't proceed by auditing and by neverending discussions about the past results; it creates new, better results that supersede the old ones. I largely agree with that.

But I would also like to point out that it's not happening in climate science. There are no real improvements – for example, the climate sensitivity isn't getting any more accurate. So the new research isn't getting better. And the main reason is that it is preprogrammed to repeat all the mistakes from the past because they're considered universal constraints: the "reality" has to have a liberal bias, after all.

Because some results from the past research are being intensely used, it's important (for genuine science) to check them and verify them – and science needs to verify things it builds upon, whether Timmer likes it or not. That's where "auditing" is needed. The word "auditing" surely sounds more business-like than science-like but it's just about the unusual word; Timmer hasn't shown that the essence of Jo Nova's approach is deficient.

Science surely has to check and crosscheck past results, look for the wrong ones, and adjust the new research according to the findings. If the verification weren't done or if its results played no role, it wouldn't be science as the new papers would be building on assumptions that are as likely to be wrong as that they are right. The body of research would resemble noise – or noise "pushed" in a direction dictated by something else than the truth. And the latter is what has described 90% of the climate science since 1988.

And that's the sad memo.

Merkel's Drang nach Osten: Berlin belongs to Russia

Something less sad, via Alexander Ač. In an open geography school, Angela Merkel was asked to show Berlin on the map. This is how she scored:

Suggestions that she is well educated could be a bit exaggerated.

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