Conflicted Climatologists

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Glenn Reynolds points to a news story detailing the numerous conflicts of interest of one Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, an IPCC official. Reynolds rightly notes his abuse of government power as he quotes from the article:

In December 2007, [Pachauri] became a member of the Senior Advisory Board of Siderian ventures based in San Francisco. This is a venture capital business owned by the Dutch multinational business incubator and operator in sustainable technology, Tendris Holding, itself part-owned by electronics giant Philips. It acquired a minority interest in January 2009 in order to "explore new business opportunities in the area of sustainability." As a member of the Senior Advisory Board of Siderian, Dr Pachauri is expected to provide the Fund and its portfolio companies "with access, standing and industry exposure at the highest level."
I have no quarrel with Reynolds, but I do have a question.

If, as Wikipedia puts it at the start of its article on the subject, "A conflict of interest ... occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other," [formatting dropped] when will people stop taking for granted government funding and "supervision" of science, and start to ask whether and when one's involvement in both government and science can constitute a conflict of interest?

The answer to that question is possible only with a proper understanding of the nature (the only social institution that can legally wield retaliatory force) and proper role (to protect individual rights) of government.

The answer is not always, No. For example, a scientist working as a patent examiner is acting in a manner proper to both a scientist and a government official by bringing his expertise to bear on how to protect the rights of inventors. A scientist who performs research for the Department of Defense on how to make a smart bomb is being paid to perform a legitimate function of the government (national defense) that happens to coincide with his research interests. In each case, there are objective ways to detect, deter, and punish conflicts of interest.

But a scientist receiving government funding for climate research is -- in today's context of a government-controlled economy -- in a postition to "justify" vast new plundering and control by the government with his findings or even just a willingness to sew panic. He is paid by what is effectively a giant guild of thieves intent on finding a ready excuse to plunder even more.

As the nation speaks of "going Galt" regarding the Bush-Obama economic crisis, perhaps it should remember another figure from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged regarding Copenhagen, ClimateGate or not:
"Why did you refuse to work for Dr. Stadler?" she asked.

The hint of his smile grew harder and more stressed; this was as near as he came to showing an emotion; the emotion was anger. But he answered in his even, unhurried drawl, "You know, Dr. Stadler once said that the first word of 'Free, scientific inquiry' was redundant. He seems to have forgotten it. Well, I'll just say that 'Governmental scientific inquiry' is a contradiction in terms." (p. 355)
The second speaker and the name Copenhagen ought to bring to mind is Quentin Daniels: He refused to work for a once-great scientist who sold out by accepting state control of science.

Advocates of big government, including the vast majority of today's scientists, see state funding removing many financial constraints from their work, but they fail to recognize that this is inherently a devil's bargain. Many will object that private benefactors or corporate employers would exercise too much control over their work in the form of being interested in certain types of results -- while ignoring the fact that this will be true of any sponsor of scientific research. (Otherwise, why not just hand money out to any passer-by?)

To them, I pose the following question: What is a cleaner motive for funding research? The hope that valid results will lead to profit from free trade or the hope that spin will lead to plundered loot and coercive power?

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Gus, coincidentally this month:

"When judges 'friend' lawyers who may appear before them, the [Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory]committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.” NYT

Gus Van Horn said...

I saw that article, but blew it off at the time. I see that the ruling is merely advisory.

I have no strong opinion about that one way or the other, but I see the point.

There so many other things that can go wrong on Facebook that I am loathe to open an account. That kind of hazard is just a drop in the bucket.

Mo said...

Came across this

and looked this link up (posted by Arthur)

apparently the global cooling hysteria is a myth.

Steve D said...

“To them, I pose the following question: What is a cleaner motive for funding research? The hope that valid results will lead to profit from free trade or the hope that spin will lead to plundered loot and coercive power?”

I would like to add that profit motif leads to more predictability as well. After a while I got pretty good at figuring out what my company would fund. The government granting agencies seem to be ok at the level of the scientists evaluating the grants but there are often constrained by dictates from above, leading to a system where it is often very difficult to tell if you are going to get funded. It is well known that many types of research are funded much better than others and these higher level decisions do not always make a lot of sense.

Gus Van Horn said...


I like the James Ranbdi piece for its focus on at least promoting human life on top of its being a nice piece of layman's skepticism.

Also, I remember global cooling being bandied about when I was in grade school.


Budget vagaries certainly belong in the category of "dictates from above." Years of, say, doubling the budget for the NIH can't go on indefinitely. But people will plan careers and research programs on such unrealistic expectations.

Then you have a glut of scientists who have to put up with poor funding, though often in the form of positions beneath what they thought their training would get them.