Now maybe William has never received a grant to do any research. From the quality of his recent efforts on "climate" papers, that wouldn't surprise. (See here and here and here and here and DJ in the HW comments here.) And the way William sells himself as numerologist for the stars or whatever (actually it's statistician to the stars with an exclamation point), that wouldn't surprise either.
William M. Briggs hits out at all sciences funded by US government grants
Although this blog is about climate, and WUWT (where the article appeared) is against climate science - the article by William M. Briggs is not restricted to climate-related science. It is about science in general. His article isn't about climate science in particular. He is taking a swipe at all government-funded scientific research in the USA, research scientists and Deans at universities.
This includes everything from space science through to health science through to social science and beyond. It covers physics, chemistry, biology and, presumably, applied science such as nano-technology and nuclear science as well as all the social sciences.
William M Briggs falsely alleges scientific funding bodies are corrupt
But what got me about the article were passages where he alleged that funding bodies are corrupt and don't judge research proposals on their merits. He reckons research grants are given to pals. (Which means that a tiny number of select people have a ginormous, humongous number pals in the USA. It boggles the mind, the size of their personal address books. They'd each need trucks to cart them around.)
His article also has an implicit contradiction. For example, he implies that researchers tell the government of the day what it wants to hear, but that argument falls in a heap when one allows that scientists don't come and go as political parties rise and fall. William's implied argument falls down because he cannot explain why there is no difference in scientific results reported as governments change.
Specifically falsely alleging EPA grantees are corrupt
And then there was this:
What about the nature of the grants?
If the EPA solicits applications for the grant “Find something wrong with this power plant” do you think their pleadings will go in vain? No, sir, they will not. Dozens upon dozens of imploring missives will arrive at headquarters, all promising to finger the culprit. And do you think the investigations of the winner (and now richer researcher) will disappoint? No, sir, these investigations will not. Besides the ordinary willingness to please found in cooperative well-fed persons, there is also the promise of future monies for a job well done.
What I would like to know is when the EPA has ever given a grant to "find something wrong with the power plant". Even a statistician to the stars (exclamation mark) should know that isn't likely to happen.
Then falsely alleges money is what motivates science
William M. Briggs certainly has a big chip on his shoulder. Is he not getting enough stars lately? Is he miffed that his recent "climate" papers went down like a lead balloon (as they should have)? He continues:
Not only will the researcher gladly suck at the government teat, strengthening his own bank account, but the researcher’s boss will benefit, too. For in each government gift is attached the miracle of overhead. This amounts to an additional 50% (more or less) of the grant’s value, a sum which goes to the researcher’s boss to spend as he pleases.
Having a career in science is now sucking at the government teat? When did Americans so disdain science that they'd refer to it like that? I thought that the USA used to pride itself on its science and technology. Apparently some don't.
The rest is at best an exaggeration, a malignant distortion. Here in Australia researchers are lucky to get any funds for overheads. Research institutions have to fund overheads out of their main budget. This limits the amount of research that can be done at institutions. For example, from the Australian Research Council:
Can you advise whether indirect costs can be included? I cannot find anywhere on the Project Costs to enter them.
The ARC does not fund indirect costs or overheads. The budget is to be presented as direct costs only - this is the level of funding that is being requested. Please refer to section A5.3 of the Funding Rules.
I don't know what happens in the USA. Some grants may allow indirect costs because the R&D system is different in the USA. In the main, as far as I know, university researchers get the part of their salary relating to the particular research project, salary for assistance (eg proportional costs for a post-doc or technical officer) and essential new equipment. Researchers don't get paid any more than their normal salary.
Deniers are money mad, and can only think in terms of money. I expect William Briggs knows this very well. Scientists get their status from their science, not from their salary.
Then falsely alleges Deans are corrupt
William plows on and implies that government grants are used as personal piggy banks, that grants only go to universities and that Deans of universities are corrupt and use research funds for personal benefit. He wrote:
As he pleases, I say.
Overhead can be, and has been, spent on all nature of things. New offices and furnishings. Wintertime junkets to sunny uplands. Hiring of nephews and nieces. This overhead is very pleasing to the researcher’s Dean and the Dean’s guard of deanlettes. The Dean encourages grants for this reason, making sure to hire just those folks who are likely to bring in more government overhead.
The system feeds on itself.
Has there ever been an instance of misuse of funds? Probably. Is it endemic? Very doubtful. As far as I am aware, funding for US universities comes from all manner of sources: student fees, fees for contract work (different from research grants), philanthropic donations and bequests, and income earned from investments. Research grants from government funding bodies are only used for research. They would rarely be misused to "take wintertime junkets" and nepotism as William Briggs claims. (Perhaps he regards conference attendance as a "junket". Scientific conferences are to discuss and present and test science.)
Finally William contradicts himself
William then quite ridiculously wrote:
For these and for many more similar reasons, the biggest conflict of interest in scientific research is government grants. It is an open scandal of monstrous proportions that scientists who receive government money do not declare that they might have been influenced, that they never admit their interest (beyond saying, “This grant was funded by grant xxx-yyy”).
So he's saying that scientists are "influenced" but do declare their funding source? He is implying that scientists will tailor their results to meet some political outcome? That is nonsense and he knows it. And it is silly beyond belief that he would criticise scientists for declaring their source of funding, claiming that isn't sufficient.
(Incidentally, this was the whole point of the recent attacks on Willie Soon - see below. That he is "influenced" by his funding sources. So William Briggs is actually supporting those making the attacks on Willie Soon.)
I think it is a matter of sour grapes from William Briggs. My estimation of him, which has only gone downhill since I first came across him, has sunk to a new low.
The kerfuffle over Willie Soon
I suppose I must comment on the article that made William Briggs show his true colors so forcefully. It was an article by Greg Laden on The X Blog. Contrary to what William Briggs alleged, Greg was not himself calling for Willie Soon to be fired. He was writing about a petition that called for Willie Soon to be fired from the Smithsonian and asking that people read it. The difference is subtle but real.
I read a bit about that kerfuffle a few days ago, which was started by someone who reckons that Willie Soon should have declared his income sources on a silly paper that was published in a Chinese journal recently. I thought at the time it was straw-clutching and I still do. Willie Soon isn't going to go away and his paper was dumb. I can't see it getting any traction. Calling for reputable institutions to sack people isn't something I'd normally recommend. (I do approve of drawing to the attention of institutions the misuse of their good name - but that's a separate issue. Sacking is a lot different to having a word to the person and telling them to get back in line.)
So overall I don't support the petition.
What about Greg's article? I wouldn't have written it but Greg can write what he likes. There wasn't anything in the article that I'd identify as "wrong", except I would argue that one only has to declare direct funding sources for a particular piece of research. So in this case, assuming he didn't get direct funding for this particular paper, I don't think Willie Soon needed to declare his general sources of income.
BTW - Greg's article didn't include the image at WUWT. William M Briggs was wrong about that, too. And Anthony foolishly raised once again his idiotic threat to sue Greg Laden, for poking fun at him for not recognising a diatom. It's called "doing a Monckton".
Ironically, Greg Laden has recently written an article on the Serengeti Strategy, which is now being played out at WUWT against Greg himself.