Sunday, February 1, 2015

William M. Briggs falsely alleges broad-scale corruption across US science - sour grapes, mashed and diced

Sou | 2:56 PM Go to the first of 26 comments. Add a comment

William M. Briggs has an article up at WUWT in which he makes all sorts of wrong claims about research grants (archived here). (Incidentally Anthony Watts called him William H. Briggs, and still hasn't corrected it, despite this tweet only four or so minutes after the article appeared.)

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.


  1. I should have added a link to one of Lewandowsky's papers. Furied conspiracy nuttery at its finest, by William M. Briggs.


  2. I would agree that petitioning an institution to fire someone for an alleged breach of ethics rules is bad tactics apart from being morally dubious in its own right.

    I see that the Luney Laird has defended Soon saying that they all did the research for free, in their own time. So there could be no conflict of interest with their funding sources.
    the only funding came from institutes that payed to make the paper publicly available instead of it being behind a paywall.

    How lucky they are to have such free time to do research, most scientists do not have an independent income that allows them to work without being paid!
    Even luckier to have 'benevolent' institutions and foundations that will pay to make it a free gift to the public!!

    But the (Chinese) Science Bulletin, the new Journal the Soon et al paper was printed in may word its disclosure rules to cover speaking fees and other sources of income that may raise conflicts of interest concerns.

    That is why research authors give their place of work and any outside source of funding they receive as a matter of course at the end of most papers.
    Given that few scientists get any money from anywhere BUT their University pay and research funding is via established science funding institutions, giving the research center they work at is sufficient to reveal their funding. Soon may have given his affiliation as the Harvard/Smithsonian, but it is by no means evident that represents his only source of funding enabling to pursue research. Moncktons claim they did the research 'for free' would indicate that the Harvard/Smithsonian affiliation was not a source of specific funding for this work by Soon?

    Take this paper, picked at random ....

    "Greenland ice sheet motion insensitive to exceptional meltwater forcing
    Andrew J. Tedstonea, Peter W. Nienowa, Andrew J. Solea, Douglas W. F. Mairc, Thomas R. Cowtona, Ian D. Bartholomewa, and Matt A. King
    Author Affiliations

    School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, Scotland;
    Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom;
    School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UE, Scotland;
    School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia;
    School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, United Kingdom

    And they declare no conflict of interests.
    It is a short few links to find out where the funding for their research comes from, -


    and while the WH Briggs of the world may regard ALL state and institutional funding, especially from Philanthropic industry finds like the Carnegie source as deeply suspect; the rest of the world gets on with the way science really works.

    The problem with the Monckton/Soon et al paper and their declaration of no conflict of interests is that if you fail to take at face value the claim they are all so independently wealthy in ways that cause no conflict of interest with their research and check into how they all do make enough money to eat and live...
    Then the unduly cynical, or conspiracy minded, might suspect a possible conflict of interests!

  3. Sou,

    "He is taking a swipe at all government-funded scientific research in the USA, research scientists and Deans at universities."

    Standard fare. He writes stuff like this even when his name isn't on the paper in question. Which is ... well, almost always. His conflicts with mainstream academia are legion. Some of his arguments are excellent, but typically only when he's not got some ideological axe to grind ... which is maybe one blog post out of 10 (p < 0.01, so I am quite confident in my conclusions). I surmise that a number of his colleagues have simply grown tired of his paint-peeling tirades about the flaws of frequentist statistical methods and apparent thin skin when it comes to graciously dealing with reasonable criticism. Some academics are arrogant because they have the grants and publications to justify it -- or rather the ability to get funded and publish despite being arseholes. We know the type, yes? Yes.

    His is not that sort of arrogance. Or so I believe on the basis of numerous anecdotal observations of his Internet persona.

    Unfortunately his blog was hacked post-Monckton et al. (2015), giving him all the more plausible ammunition to claim persecution by the Establishment.

  4. More.... I had made absolutely no attempt to examine the paper before now, others more expert, and Moncktons defense at another blog confirmed by expectations. But in looking again I notice that just like a 'PROPER' scientific paper, this one starts of with a list of authors and their affiliations. This is the list that in most scientific papers tells you where the people work and so who pays them. Along with any direct acknowledgement of funding.

    However the affiliation list for this paper is less helpful than most. -

    Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model
    Christopher Monckton1, Willie W.-H. Soon2, David R. Legates3, William M. Briggs4
    1. Science and Public Policy Institute, Haymarket, VA 20169, USA;
    2. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA;
    3. Department of Geography, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA;
    4. New York, NY 10021, USA

    The SPPI has form as a source of funding for science. Not winning form.

    The two Universities may be uncomfortable with that being the only affiliation Soon and Legates give, implying it is their beneficence that enables this work, but many other tenured professors in many fields have done far worse.

    New York, NY 10021, USA
    is not however an affiliation which seems to communicate anything helpful about the author's income and funding.

    1. Briggs teaches part-time at Cornell, contract work when he can get it to fill the rest of his hours. Has several times written about not winning a consulting gig when his views on climate change became known to his interviewers. If true, were I him, I'd either be looking to hit the denier circuit professionally or repent for my sins.

      But the "if" is a biggie.

  5. I read Dr. Briggs's rant. I haven't read Laden's quest for Soon's head. As with most rants and quests, there is a bit of truth, albeit hidden and contorted.

    I do have some perspective with respect to Briggs's rant on government funded science and R&D. I've been recipient (PI,Co-I, etc.) of numerous NASA, NSF and DoD-funded R&D grants and contracts since the late 1970s, some of many millions. I've also been a reviewer of all sorts of proposals, programs, and initiatives for NASA, DoD, etc. Starting about 2005 I added NIH to the portfolio, but as a Chief Scientist overseeing other PIs, not as a researcher.

    Many of Briggs's observations about the grant process have some truth, but it varies greatly among agencies. I am of the opinion that NIH suffers most from these problems. To its credit NIH has been working hard in the last 5 years to figure out how to mitigate some of the complaints raised by Briggs. I believe much of the problem has been the rapid increase in growth ($) of NIH without having the qualified manpower to manage the process. Compared to "Space Science" the grant processes I ran into at NIH was startlingly filled with conflicts, cronyism and just plain illogical processes.

    I do have one anecdote, that is timely only in the passing of Charles Townes. During one of the NASA review panel meetings I was supporting, sometime around 1980, the NASA program manager presented us with a conundrum: Dr. Townes wrote to the committee thanking NASA for the yearly block grant (I think it was $100K) for which he had only submitted one proposal a decade or more ago and never asked for it to be renewed. Yet, he still got $100K each year. However, he did provide us with a report of the graduate students supported, their thesis titles, articles written, projects supported, future research topics to support, etc., all of which was impressive and first rate in science, but in the area of atomic physics, not quite the area of the program we were reviewing.

    What was the committee to do? On the “big white board” was the rank listing of 50+(mostly excellent) proposals asking for many, many $10Ms of which we could support 15% at best. A line had been drawn where the funds ran out. Did we say, “You’re a good guy Charlie, Nobel Prize and all. Here’s another $100K, but send us a proposal sometime?” and cause an excellent proposal to drop below the funding line? I can’t remember the result, but I think we recommended not to fund Dr. Townes from the particular program and ask higher-up NASA management to figure out what to do (i.e., move it over to a more appropriate program and cause some other manager a headache). This “Oh, just send them the money” occurrence is not common in space sciences to my knowledge, but it IS, or at least has been, common in some form or another in the NIH world.

    I will say that William Briggs’s rant does remind me of the rants we would get from those “researchers” continually proposing 3rd rate research. These proposals would come in year after year, always the same, always 3rd rate and always with an annoying letter demanding to know why their brilliant work was not funded. And each year we would have to point out the (obvious) deficiencies of the proposed research causing the program managers to get yet another nasty letter in response. Shall I tell you stories about “spinning atom vortices rubbing against the edge of the Universe causing sparks we see as galaxies …?” It’s not a perfect world.

    1. I wouldn't characterise this as a quest for Soon's head: merely recognition of who Soon works for.

      "Climate sceptic Willie Soon received $1m from oil companies, papers show "


      If the oil companies pay him that much then who is he really affiliated to?

    2. As an NIH grant recipient for the last 25 years I have to say that the place is not rife with corruption. There are concerns for sure but when the various institutes within NIH are setting percentiles around 10% or less, getting a grant is more of a crap shoot than anything else. Percentile refers to where your grant scores compared to all other grants reviewed by a committee (called a study section). Individual institutes often state the percentile they will fund up to - for the institute funding my work it was the top 10% for 2014. So in any review cycle (3/yr) you need to be in top 10% to have any chance and many committees will review 50-80 grants/cycle so the competition is stiff to say the least. In the current climate many previously well funded, well respected investigators are going to the wall. But that's not due to a corrupt system, just simple competition for way too little money to support the science.

      As regards overhead, its above 85% where I work. But we are a non-profit institution that receives no operating costs from government and so that overhead has to pay all the bills an NIH grant doesn't pay - and they are way to numerous to detail here but include administrative staff, power/water, etc etc. What it can't be used for is to increase the pay of research staff.

    3. I get to see the US research system as a researcher, proposal writer, reviewer of papers and sometimes review panelist. At least in my field (polar science) it's a highly competitive system that is probably as fair as it can be made. For each proposal that the agencies have money to fund, there are 10 submitted, and at least half of the unfunded ones are important high-quality science.

      As a part-time administrator, I also get to understand the detail of the indirect or overhead that is needed to do the research. 50-80% of "direct costs" is a fair number, required for both the physical infrastructure and the human resources (accountants, auditors, IT, etc) required to make the research doable.

      No-one in my area of science is getting rich, and it's sometimes exhausting to do it, including finding the money and dealing with critics who refuse to understand the scientific process, e.g., defending ourselves against people who misrepresent us.

      My colleagues and I stay in it because, when we're learning something new, it's the most exciting job we can imagine. Not when we're reinventing the wheel, but when we show that conventional wisdom is wrong. Consensus is something to be fought against, not joined; consensus is the unfortunate outcome of not being able to tear it down.

    4. Mike,
      I hope I did not imply that NIH is rife with corruption. There is no corruption. Conflicts of interest? Yes, but these conflicts are always found in the forefront of research because there exists only a small number of researchers competent to understand what is going and those on the periphery would have to spend an inordinate amount of time working to come up to speed just to provide a reasonable review. Few will do that instead of concentrating on their own research.
      In the past there were issues with "block grants" which in essence moved the grant agency's administrative job down to the block grant's PI and institution. There will always be complaints about the competitiveness of government sponsored R&D, but that competitiveness, painful as it is for those of us who participate, keeps the system very honest and removes corruption and negligence pretty fast, However, based on my readings over the years in Science Mag (AAAS), I do worry that the bio-sciences suffer an undue proportion of research that cannot be duplicated. Lest any reader take that to mean incompetence, I remind you that bioscience R&D is really, really difficult and I for one am astonished at what is done at all.

    5. Sorry about the delay, Jonathan. Google spam ate your comment by mistake and I only just caught it.

  6. Some good insights here.

    It's true that once a researcher has built up a reputation for good research they are not only more likely to attract funds, they are also likely to attract quality researchers to their team - and lots of PhD candidates and post-docs who want to work with them. So they are much sought after by universities and other research institutions.

    In a small field, it's quite conceivable that some proposals would be favoured over others on the basis of the name and reputation of the principal researcher more so than the quality of the application.

    These days research funds are highly competitive and the processes in most cases are pretty tightly controlled. Canny applicants will try to partner with a highly regarded institution and include the names of quality researchers. It works both ways - the institutions and researchers have a reputation to protect, so their work will generally be very good.

    Does that mean that it's common practice for Deans to buy opulent furnishings with government research grant money? Or give jobs to family members? Does this mean research scientists are in it for the money? Or that they misuse research funds as a matter of course? I very much doubt it and never saw that when i worked with an R&D organisation.

    Internal politics? Yes - that's part of being human and is everywhere in the public and private sector alike. Corruption? Not so much, in part because of the way the process is managed, and in part because of the fairly tight controls over application and reporting - with government funding these days.

  7. Off Topic - Anyone want to see Smokey/Stealey's latest direct hit on his foot?

    In the latest Monckton posting at WUWT, after I pointed out that the Emperor had not a stitch on the thread wandered over to the topic of the unanimous endorsement of the IPCC position by every scientific association of standing in the world.

    To 'refute' this, Stealey posted this open letter. My reply pointed out that the number of climate scientists signatories barely made it into double digits. And that one of the signers was:

    Richard S. Courtney, PhD, climate and atmospheric science consultant, IPCC expert reviewer, U.K.

    (He missed out 'Technical Editor for Coaltrans'). Who is presumably the same Richard Courtney who posts moderately venomous missives at WUWT, and signs himself 'Dr' or 'PHD' on various petitions and open letters despite the fact the he holds no such degree.

    My polite reply, snarkily saying I found the letter utterly persuasive has apparently been disappeared. Situation normal at WUWT.

    1. Monckton et al. (2015) is the gift that keeps on giving, if only for affording DB more opportunities to blast away at his shoes with reckless abandon. The effortless manner in which he natters on and on about there being "no direct measurements" of AGW in a thread about a paper which purports to directly measure it is simply astounding. Even Monkers himself is backpedaling away from it, telling me at one point in a different post (I paraphrase) "something is gently nudging temperatures higher".

      One wonders if these guys think more than two steps ahead.

      FWIW, according to DB, yes, it is the same Richard S. Courtney, "peer-reviewed author". IIRC, he held short of characterizing him as a PhD or a one-time IPCC reviewer. Context of that one was: DB took umbrage at a (likely derisive but on point) comment I directed at RSC. DB played the fallacious authority card he's constantly harping on, "He's a peer-reviewed author, who are you, blah blah blah ... " To which I very politely responded, "Great, then he should know how to offer a proper scientific rebuttal instead of the crap he's slinging," or some such. I don't remember how that one wound up, but just today Courtney opined that a pet list of "failed AGW predictions" is "about as daft as volcanoes being caused by AGW or a post by Brandon Gates ... read on and laugh". I was more than happy to oblige.

      Nerves can be tender in WHUTlandia. It's no surprise Wordpress ate your post on "Dr." Courtney's true credentials.

      Sad as ever for me to see Freeman Dyson as a signatory, whose various honorary PhDs I consider well-deserved. I note with interest that Judith Curry opted out. Strange place this planet sometimes.

    2. Brandon, as you know, Richard S. Courtney has been unwell for some time. He has written that he is suffering from the complications of emphysema. The good news is that recent treatment has been successful and he will be well enough able to attend his son's (M Courtney) wedding .

      A close friend has emphysema and so I have some understanding Courtney's illness. My friend is an ex smoker as am I, so my risk of contracting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is elevated.

      Because of that elevated risk, the campaign of deception by Fred Seitz at the George C. Marshall Institute and Fred Singer at Heartland in support of Big Tobacco has personalized the matter for me.

      Just last April Heartland's president Joe Bast backed his 1988 op ed "that smoking cigarettes has little to no adverse health effects,” http://www.republicreport.org/2014/bast-big-tobacco/#sthash.l7s9srb8.dpuf

      90% of all cases of emphysema are caused by smoking, thus making it one of the most preventable types of respiratory diseases. Cigarette smoking causes emphysema by irritating the airways creating inflammation that narrows the airways, making it more difficult to breathe. Cigarette smoke also causes the cilia to stop working properly, so mucus and particles are not cleaned from the airways.

      Courtney has connections with all those mentioned above. He was a keen and early supporter of Fred Singer and was one of the first people to sign the 1995 “Leipzig Declaration,” a project of Fred Singer's Science and Environmental Policy Project . Courtney addressed Heartland’s 2009 International Conference on climate Change and was also a founding member of the now-defunct European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF).

      The ESEF was part of the “sound science” movement and was a front group for the The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco FOREST and the UK Smoker's Rights Organisation.

      I wonder if Courtney's pulmonary illness has ever caused him to reflect on the character and probity of his fellow travellers. I would ask him via a WUWT comment but I am no longer welcome there.

    3. PG,

      In the beginning of my participation at WUWT I once confused Richard S. with M Courtney, which M Courtney described as an "amusing typo". But neither he nor his father disclosed the relationship when I recognized my error. I did not know, and simply chalked it up to coincidence. Interesting.

      About the oddest ... somewhat awkward ... public relationship I've observed is between Fred and Russell Seitz, the latter I take it is the nephew of the former? I would not have put those two together on the basis of surname alone. Especially because I much appreciate Russell's POV of things, particularly his scathing wit and parody cartoons.

      As a current smoking addict, I probably should be more up in arms about the tobacco industry's well-documented history to suppress the hazards of their products. My reticence isn't brand loyalty by any means ... more that I'm rigorous about holding myself personally responsible for the slow death I'm administering. And a sense that I don't need double-blind clinical studies to know that the damn things are terrible for my health. That doesn't mean I don't think that lobby's behavior wasn't -- isn't -- odious. More like personal knowledge that the key to finding the will to quit is keeping the blame for my bad habit squarely on me and me alone.

      RSC has little shame abut much of anything so far as I can tell. I caught him out clearly over-representing the robusntness of using leaf stomata as a proxy for CO2 concentration; he just ramped up the rhetoric that I'm daft and a liar. His latest is that I can't answer questions without copy-pasting from HotWhopper. I don't even bother asking him for an example ... even if there was a clear cut example I doubt he'd bother to substantiate it. He trades on sophistry, insult and character assassination. No fact-checking at all is required to smell that sort of bullshit. His prior associations are consistent with what is already self-evident in daily public behavior, and therefore no surprise. Thanks for the perspective.

      DB recently and amusingly wrote that someone, Ben Santer maybe?, was "afraid" to debate the WUTTERs because of the "scientific probity" of its readers.

      And speaking of being welcome at WUWT, just today he wrote that he doesn't think of me as a troll, was sorry that I'd gotten "caught up" in his campaign against the latest crop trolls taking advantage of the open-comment policy, and that he'd been wrong about his initial assessment of me.

      Never a dull moment over there.

  8. I could imagine that Willie Soon should have declared his income sources for his paper. It is not enough to say that this specific study was not sponsored by the oil industry.

    Lets take a medical research who has most of his research sponsored by pharmaceutical company X. If this researcher writes a paper that one of the pills of X works great, I do not expect that he can claim that that specific paper was not sponsored by X and thus not state his conflict of interest.

    But that is something the Smithsonian Institute should clear. There surely is a limit somewhere. It sounded as if the funding in this case was not large and some time in the past. Thus someone writing a well-argumented letter to the Smithsonian sounds like a good idea.

    Starting a petition and thus building up public pressure to make the Smithsonian decide in a certain way is not a good idea. That interferes with the freedom of research.

  9. How do we do it with the funding sources?

    When we publish a paper we usually declare our funding sources in the acknowledgements of the paper. The projects for which we get grants often represent different aspects of our overall research. This can make it difficult to attribute the source of funding to only a subset of them. In such a case, we disclose all sources of funding from which we got grant money over the whole time period, during which we worked on the research that is being published, by explicitly naming all the funding agencies and the grant numbers or programs.

    Now, it doesn't have to be in this way. It is very well conceivable that different research projects are very well separated. And then you would only disclose the specific source of funding for the specific research project. Thus, I agree that Willie Soon didn't have to disclose any of the petroleum money sources, if none of the money was used in any way whatsoever to produce the paper (this means including any of the time that was spent on any of the analyses or writing the paper, not just the costs for publishing the paper in a journal itself). However, this raises the question how was the "research" for the paper and the paper writing funded, actually? It's theoretically possible that the authors did it fully on their own time. Then again, we know one source of funding, at least for the publication costs: The Heartland Institute. The authors stated this themselves after the paper was published. Thus, even if Heartland only covered the publication costs and nothing else, it should have been disclosed in the paper, but the authors didn't do that.

    As for indirect costs in the US, since Sou raised this question. The universities request indirect costs to be paid from each research grant. The indirect costs are part of the budget when a proposal application is sent to any of the funding agencies. It is based on an agreement with the Federal Government. The indirect costs are currently about 60% of the direct costs at the university where I am employed for on-campus research. It's 26% for off-campus research. The institute where I work is off-campus. The researchers themselves don't get any more salary from the indirect costs. It all goes to the university budget.

    If you want to get rich, don't work in academia as a researcher funded with softmoney, particularly not with one of the big prestigious universities in a city with high expenses for living.

    1. Thanks, Jan. I figured it would be different in the USA to Australia. The R&D model here is quite different, probably more like the UK. Research institutions here have tried for a long time to get funding bodies to allow a contribution to overheads. Some might these days, though not ARC (Australian Research Council). Almost none did in the past. (It is very restricting to disallow overheads. It imposes a limit on the amount of grant-funded research an institute can support.)

    2. Another US thing: many faculty receive 9-month appointments. You're meant to apply for grants to cover the remaining three months. Lack of grants can have a big impact on your income.

      Work in academia is not super lucrative, but it's a good living, if you can stand the initiation rites.

  10. In the US, it's standard practice for pretty much all federal science grants to come with indirect costs. These are negotiated between a funding agency and the institution, on an institution-wide basis. The idea is to provide funds for keeping the relevant infrastructure in place -- keeping the lights on in the lab, paying the administrators specifically needed to assure compliance with the Byzantinely complex federal rules, and so on.

    Institutions love it when their employees pull down grants, not so much because of the budgetary implications, but because it makes the institution look good. Universities in the US are intensely competitive with each other, looking to maintain a high profile so that they attract the most talented faculty and students. In many cases they have also become economic drivers, not just because the money they pull in goes largely to local salaries, but because the ideas they generate often spin off important start-ups and eventually whole industries. Silicon valley is where it is largely because of Stanford Route 128 around Boston is there because of MIT.

    Money does not automatically imply corruption. I have sat on NSF and NASA review panels, and there is a strong effort to avoid conflicts of interest and to judge proposals on their merits. Gradie's observations about Townes' funding a few notches up ring true.

  11. I highly recommend checking this critique of Monckton's paper.


    The short answer is that it's just another in a long line of logical fallacies, misrepresentation and ideology on steroids.

    Interestingly, he also noted the same observation that I made earlier, that is the caption on figure 1 is wrong. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Monckton et al are set in their ways, unable to comprehend that their ideology is based on a fantasy.

    Also, when he and his cohorts start commenting on blogs with people who are actually knowledgable on the subject, he reveals his dark side, and it's certainly not pretty.

    'And your scientific point (if any)?'

    The scientific point is that the paper is pure pseudoscience held together by misrepresentation and mumbo jumbo. It ignores key physics and the math is totally wrong.

    Check out this comment fragment.

    "Sea level fell from 2003-2009 and has barely risen in the past decade (Aviso Envisat; GRACE satellites)"

    But if we actually look at the data he cites

    There is NO sea level 'fall'

    You have to wonder for his sanity.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I don't want this thread to turn into a battle of Seitz vs Oreskes. So I've deleted all comments.

      Let's stick to the topic at hand.

  13. It is clear that all research should be financed by private companies.
    This way there wouldn't be any conflict of interest.


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