Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Ugly Side of Denialism: Anthony Watts' level of comprehension hits a new low

Sou | 4:59 PM Go to the first of 11 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts twists and turns wildly at time in an effort to find things that will appease the insatiable appetite of his readers for stuff with which to attack science.

This time he's written a short comment (archived here), picking up a headline but completely missing the point of the letter to which it related.

Research funding models and impact on science and scientists

The headline Anthony picked up on was: "Systemic addiction to research funding", which didn't really fit the letter itself.  It was over a letter written by Andrew Resnick from Cleveland State University, where he is Assistant Professor in the Physics Department, working in biophysics in the College of Sciences and Health Professions.

His letter was in response to an article in PNAS published in April this year by Bruce Alberts, Marc W. Kirschnerb, Shirley Tilghmanc and Harold Varmusd. The April article was about biomedical research in the USA and how the funding system can lead to people leaving scientific research for easier career paths.  The paper is available in full here.  Nothing to do with climate science, although the subject matter arguably applies to the model of research funding in many if not most disciplines - not just science either.

Most research academics have to compete for funding - in all areas, not just science. That's the way the funding bodies work. There have been changes over the decades trying to address the situation but research grants are highly competitive - maybe more so than ever.

I was closer to the issue a couple of decades ago and the article would have been as relevant back then as it is today in many areas.  We used to say that the first year of a three year project was setting up the research, the second year doing the research and the third year writing applications for the next project.  Somewhere in all that the research was completed and written up (mostly).

That's pretty much what Andrew Resnick was arguing in his letter - that what the April paper was about is nothing new. Some improvements have been made in some areas of science, such as longer term projects, a more structured approach, a greater focus on letting grant applicants know the priorities of the funding bodies and setting up cross-institutional and global programs on collaborative "mega-projects". On the downside (from the point of view of the researchers and funding bodies), it used to be that the employing bodies (universities, research institutions) would pick up the tab for corporate overheads. These days they are likely to insist that the research projects pay for these overheads.

Changes in research funding over the decades

There have been big changes in the system of funding over the decades, too. Many decades ago many scientists relied on patrons. Then governments and universities got serious about research and for a while were (relatively for the time) flush with funds. Then governments themselves took a more business-like approach to management as the voting public clamoured for more and more and the dollars had to stretch further and further. Then universities also became more managerial. It's all about producing measurable outputs these days, whether in teaching or research. The world is a lot more complicated than when there were only two billion people on the planet.

That's in Australia and I expect it's not that different in other countries.

Deniers don't want any research - full stop

Back to Anthony Watts. He clearly hasn't got a clue about research funding models. His own business model is much simpler. He earns some of his income from being an anti-science advocate and some of his income trading off the science that other people give him (weather forecasts).

Anthony Watts turned his misunderstanding of the letter into this:
President Eisenhower warned of this. In the world of climate science, we have come to know this simple equation as demonstrated by some of the most zealous proponents of climate change:
No Alarm =  No Funding + No Glory
I'm not aware of President Eisenhower saying anything about climate science. He was around before much of the world (and the US Presidency) was aware of the problems we are causing.  Anthony is appealing to the illiterati like him who don't understand or value science or knowledge. Not only was the article not about climate science, he is very wrong if he thinks that if there wasn't global warming there would be nothing to research. Scientists are quite clever people. They can turn their mind to anything they fancy. And most of them know that to keep their job they have to do work that the funding bodies will pay for. So if funding bodies decide that climate is no longer a priority, many scientists will shift their effort to researching what is a priority or make a career shift to something else that makes use of their talents.

The message I get from Anthony Watts is that he doesn't want any scientific research related to climate or earth sciences. He'd rather not know. But then, he targets the scientifically illiterate and people who are afraid of knowledge.

From the WUWT comments

The usual riff raff with the usual dumb comments mixed with a lot of ugliness (warning - I've included some of the ugly below). If not for places like WUWT I'd have no idea there were people like this in the world today. I do believe they are in the minority and it's only the internet that gives them a voice.

PaulH says:
June 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm
The surest way to solve CAGW is to stop funding it’s “research”.

M Seward says:
June 14, 2014 at 3:43 pm
We have a new monster in out midst. Forget the “military-industrial complex” we now have the “science-political complex” or the “ecoreligeous-science complex”. Call it what you will, its a Godzilla sized monster spreading destructive nonsense and drooling at the prospect of total power.

Dr K.A. Rodgers says:
June 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm
It ain’t so much the scientists who are addicted to funding but their lords and masters in admin who cream at least 15% off the top. That is where the drive comes from.
No funding, no tenure. No funding, no promotion. And so it goes. It is why those same lords and masters will protect a proven fund raiser no matter what codswallop they produce.

latecommer2014 says:
June 14, 2014 at 6:01 pm
It’s the oldest profession ….selling what you have for what you want to any buyer with the resources. Not much different than prostitution.

Nick Stokes isn't completely correct, funding for research can come from many sources other than governments. A lot of scientific and technical research done in universities and other research institutions is funded by industry - according to industry priorities. He says:
June 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm
“His words, not mine.”
Well, it’s the headline, which he probably didn’t write. The letter rather seems to be asking of Alberts et al – well, what do you want?
It’s a reasonable question. It is government that has decided that research will be grant funded. And so that is the research you hear about. You don’t hear from the people who didn’t get grants. They had to do other things. 

Jimbo says:
June 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm
Mortgages, kids, HOT TROPICAL holidays to the sinking Maldives, SUVs, flights, climate conferences to HOT TROPICAL JOINTS, multiple homes, hypocrisy et al all have to be paid for dontcha know. Government control, money and undeserved climastrological recognition is the key to the global warming alarm. 

Alberts, Bruce, Marc W. Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus. "Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 16 (2014): 5773-5777. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404402111

Andrew Resnick - letter re above, Systemic addiction to research funding, PNAS 2014


  1. Watts is probably referring to President Eisenhower's famous speech on the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex:
    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.

    Apparently Watts thinks climate science research is in the same ball-park as defence spending!

    1. From that same speech,

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

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

  2. I've heard in the first draft Eisenhower called it the "Military-Industrial-Congressional complex". I think he decided that would be too inflammatory.

    1. That's my understanding as well. If so, I can't help but agree...

  3. Fascinating. The letter, which only about 50 lines long, is there for every WUWT reader to see, and yet hardly anybody (Watts in particular) seems to have bothered to read past the headline.

  4. What the Denialati don't seem to appreciate is that funding for climate research is not new money, it's money diverted from other scientific fields. This is the Age of Austerity, after all. If climate science is the rubbish they so often claim it is, the people best qualified to recognise the fact and most motivated to say so are other scientists. And yet we find that all the world's national science foundations and many more prestigious scientific institutions not only endorse AGW but feel bound to say so. Presumably because algore.

  5. President Eisenhower was still alive in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson told Congress: "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through...a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

  6. Please could someone send me the packages for my expensive holidays and the addresses and keys for my multiple homes, which I supposedly have, with all the riches I can make from my soft money salary coming from government grants? Somehow I didn't get them.

    I did go to a conference to Southern Italy two weeks ago, though. I didn't even get to see any sights, however, since it took place in a secluded resort with lectures, poster sessions, and many conversations with other scientists all day, from the morning to the evening. And my own talk was on the second to the last day. The science deniers must be really envious of all that.

    1. What year do Copenhagen, Warsaw, and Paris become a hot tropical joint in your predictions?

    2. To not leave a false impression. I nevertheless had a really great nerd time at the conference. I am not complaining. It was like a big Big Bang Theory festival.

      In case anyone is curious what conference it was: DUST2014. About everything you always have wanted to know about atmospheric dust, but never dared to ask.

  7. Huh? Boy, that's a stretch, even by Denialati standards! Keep making enough pointless noise and you don't have to contemplate the deafeningly silent vacuum at the heart of your ideology, I guess...


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