Climate Scientists: In Like Flint?

I confess I chose the title for this post so I could put up another picture of James Coburn, one of my favorite actors since I saw The Magnificent Seven. Here’s another from his ouevre.

In Like Flint.jpg

Via Kevin Drum, the scientist who uncovered the lead poisoning in the Flint (Michigan) water supply has some interesting things to say. Things that are of relevance to the climate conversation.

Drum links to the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The title is ‘The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science is Broken.’ It’s well worth a read, even on Super Bowl Sunday. (Who’s winning, btw?)

The scientist is Marc Edwards and this is some of what he has to say:

“I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.”

“I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.

If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.”

” But the expectation is that there’s tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars that are going to be made available by these agencies. And some part of that will be directed toward research, so we now have a financial incentive to get involved. I hate to sound cynical about it. I know these folks have good intentions. But it doesn’t change the fact that, Where were we as academics for all this time before it became financially in our interest to help? Where were we?”

“I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way. The only way I can construct a worldview that accommodates this is to say, These people are unscientific. Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you really ought to question your motives. Unfortunately, in general, academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust. We’re not.”

“We are not skeptical enough about each other’s results. What’s the upside in that? You’re going to make enemies. People might start questioning your results. And that’s going to start slowing down our publication assembly line. Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.”

“But when you reach out to them, as I did with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they do not return your phone calls, they do not share data, they do not respond to FOIA [open-records requests], y’know. … In each case I just started asking questions and turning over rocks, and I resolved to myself, The second something slimy doesn’t come out, I’m gonna go home. But every single rock you turn over, something slimy comes out.”

No transparency no consensus.jpg

Those of us involved in the conversation about climate change have probably already zeroed in on some of Edwards’ comments as being particularly apropos of our own areas of interest. I know I have.

But his closing quote is also worth remembering: “Do not let our educational institutions make you into something that you will be ashamed of.”

Please remember that one of the central pillars of my personal arguments against the consensus view of climate change is that most of the climate scientists are hard working, professional and honest. However, they have let a motley crew of band wagoners, lobbyists and glory seekers step in front of them on the public stage–that these charlatans have grabbed the microphone out of their hands and changed the nature and the content of the conversation away from the points we should be discussing.

I am specifically thinking of people like Stephan Lewandowsky, Naomi Oreskes, Jim Prall, Michael Mann and a double handful of others. That’s out of perhaps 30,000 working in the field.

Marc Edwards gives us all a compelling reason for some of the other climate scientists to step up to the plate and confront the nonsense peddled by a few bad apples. Sadly, he also shows the obstacles confronting anyone who has considered it.

5 responses to “Climate Scientists: In Like Flint?

  1. Tom, the number of scientists corrupted or compromised by the money is going to be similar in demographics as corrupted or compromised players on Wall St.

  2. My favorites were Americanization of Emily and Hell is for Heroes.

  3. Tom,

    I think you have missed the main points made by Marc Edwards:
    “I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.”
    and:
    “We are not skeptical enough about each other’s results. What’s the upside in that? You’re going to make enemies. People might start questioning your results. And that’s going to start slowing down our publication assembly line. Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.”

    The real problem is not a few bad apples or even the unwillingness of many to call out those bad apples. It is the pursuit of funding, publications, h-index, etc. rather than the pusuit of scientific understanding. Examining the basic assumptions of your field does not advance the corrupting goals of funding, etc. Pointing out errors in the work of others does not advance those corrupting goals. Choosing your problems according their importance to basic understanding in your field is very unlikely to advance those corrupting goals. Picking the low hanging fruit of a study close enough to what has been done to have a high probability of success, but with a twist that can be exploited for publicity most certainly does advance those corrupting goals. But that does not advance the science.

    Science, properly done, is self-correcting. So corrupt individuals have little effect in the end. But the enterprise itself has been corrupted, so that “hard working, professional and honest” individuals can produce a corrupt result. Climate science may be the worst case, but the disease is widespread.

  4. IMO Pat Michaels has done some very good work in this area:

    He quotes the well known passage from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address:

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    along with this later, lesser known passage:

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

  5. I don’t think much about this Super Bowl, but last night I dreamed a really tall white guy kept waving a pointy football in the air as a choir sang “Fifty eight, fifty eight” and then a really ugly old woman gave the guy a big kiss on the cheek.

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