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« Mann lecture at Penn State | Main | Quackery? Josh 143 »
Saturday
Jan282012

Ivory-tower activists

I had an interesting exchange of tweets the other day with Tamsin Edwards. She had noted that she was off to a conference called Planet Under Pressure, and I gently inquired whether this was a suitable conference for a scientist to be attending at public expense - it certainly looks like an activist gathering to me, although in fairness there are also a few scientific sessions.

I think everyone would agree that the public is funding scientists to make scientific discoveries. Whether they are also paying for outreach efforts seems to me to be a moot point. The line between making the public aware of what is going on in science and using science as a tool in an ongoing political struggle seems to me to be one that is fraught with difficulty. There is little doubt that many residents of the ivory tower are little more than publicly funded political activists - a form of corruption if ever there was one. (For the avoidance of doubt, I don't believe that Tamsin E is one of these - indeed I'm not even sure that there are many such among the ranks of climate scientists, strictly defined).

Is there any way of making a clear delineation of what is acceptable or unacceptable for scientists to do with their public funding? Or is this sort of abuse and corruption of taxpayer largesse simply a feature of the system rather than a bug?

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Reader Comments (42)

Sadly, I can think of none that such people are likely to understand. If they were capable of understanding such ethical nuances, they would already avoid anything that smacked of conflicts of interest.

Jan 28, 2012 at 7:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterMique

This is clearly another step in the move to "sustainability" from the discredited "climate change". It is purely political and a way for the UN to keep control of the agenda and ensure unlimited funding. Taxpayers should not be funding these political, non-scientific jamborees. A scan through the agenda tells you all you need to know.

Jan 28, 2012 at 8:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Lots of "networking", I suppose. Yuk!

Jan 28, 2012 at 8:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

It sounds like some scientists (including Ed Hawkins) may just go for the first (science) day.

I think it's good if people outside science are exposed to real scientifc talks - the rough and tumble arguments - and posters. Straight from the horses mouth, no filtering or interpretation.

Jan 28, 2012 at 8:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

How much does it cost for the general public to attend?
Or are they priced out of attending?

I'm not sure that many that woud attend would actually go near any of the scientists :(

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Tamsin Edwards,
What do you mean by "rough and tumble arguments - and posters" (especially the "posters" bit)?

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

It cost this much to Go? !!
https://twitter.com/#!/Realclim8gate/status/160340992258613248

@richardabetts @Realclim8gate @aDissentient Yes, £330 rising to £450

Well that excludes virtually every member of the public I know?
JUst a lobbyfest, with a token science day? :(

Also, not sure about Beddington and Watson's bio. Are their claims a bit of a stretch>
http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/patrons.asp

ie Sir Bob Watson:

"Projected changes in climate during the 21st century will occur faster than in at least the past 10,000 years."

I think the WILL is not rigouroulsy justified by climate change science.

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I see the Met Office is listed as a "commercial supporter".

Our taxes diverted into political activism yet again.

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

John

Rough and tumble arguments that always happen at scientific conferences. People defending their own methods, trying to pick holes in others. I didn't have anything particular in mind. Just normal science.

Posters - not all the presentations are talks. Many including mine will be a poster on the wall. There's usually a specific time at which the author stands in front and anyone can go up and discuss. They tend to be more civil because it is one on one / small groups rather than people trying to make their point in front of a crowd.

Barry

Yes, it is expensive, but normal for a conference.

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

"International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
IGBP provides essential international scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society onto a sustainable pathway during rapid global change."
www.igbp.net
This is the direct route to collectivism under the umberella of the UN AGENDA 21 sustainable development plan.
Google UN AGENDA 21 to find out all the gory details.
Frightening

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

speaker:- Jeremy Bentham, Shell International, UK

That wouldn't be one of those shills for BigOil the Thermageddonists are always banging on about?

Looking at the webpage, it appears to be about as suitable for anyone paid for by taxpayers to attend as would be a symposium on "Business Ethics" held in Corleone.

Jan 28, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

A scientist, of any kidney, is also a person and is entitled to a life outside their workaday commitments. They will often (should?) care about their work to the extent that they want to talk to people about it and evangelise. In that sense I have no problem with Tamsin or Richard or Tom Cobley et al attending such conferences.

The interesting thing about this one is that it shows rather well the degree that networking and quangos/NGO's play in the life of the typical 'in' scientist and how tightly the policy machine is driven by vested interests and lobbyists. Have a look at the organisations involved. There is a network of tax funded groups which are on the surface 'science' based, but in fact have 'policy' as their strategic purpose. There are corporate interests, but I'm happier with the honesty of 'I'm here to make money and to to influence policy to help me do that' than I am with 'I'm nominally a scientist but I'm really here to influence policy in line with my political views'.

Taxpayers spending money on science? Essential. Taxpayers spending money on policy lobby groups aimed at directing tax money to the lobbyists purposes? Much more questionable, if not directly unethical.

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I'm happier with the honesty of 'I'm here to make money and to to influence policy to help me do that' than I am with 'I'm nominally a scientist but I'm really here to influence policy in line with my political views'.

I'd go further than that and side with C.S. Lewis, who wrote:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

It's really hard to separate universities from political activism.

People who, after finishing education, go out into the real world to earn their living tend towards the right in their political views. Those who stick around in academe, living on public funds and devoting their lives to contemplating ideas, inevitably tend towards the left.

LSE was actually founded by the Webb's Fabian Society to promote socialism - and our only remaining hard-line Stalinist/Marxist, Eric Hobsbawn, is still President of the University of London's Birkbeck College.

Even in the less public dominated US academic structure, the University of Colorado has been involved in a five year, multi-million dollar battle to get rid of a single maverick activist prof - Ward Churchill.

I think the university system is, like the BBC, "institutionally" radical - and the best we can do is continually expose the fact.

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

"Is there any way of making a clear delineation of what is acceptable or unacceptable for scientists to do with their public funding?"

I believe so, any scientific work publicly fund should:
- have a legally binding contract which clearly states the conditions under which the research is done
- be assessed independently at a variety of stages to ensure value for money and the conditions (including good practices) are being followed
- allow all data to be made available to everyone in a convenient format
- not be associated with advocacy or political groups

Anything a person does outside the funding is their business

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterCinbadtheSailor

Re: Jan 28, 2012 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered Commenter Rick Bradford

I was very interested in your quote from C S Lewis. I'm very fond of his writings please could you tell me where the quote came from?

Jan 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered Commenteroxonmoron

The C.S. Lewis quotation is apparently from 'God in the Dock' (1948), ISBN 0-8028-0868-9. It's a collection of letters and articles.

Jan 28, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I think it is a matter of conscience. I think, and if you think about it, what makes us an 'open' society is that we trust each other. When that has gone, then nothing remains. By the away, from your more recent posts, I'd say you've been Mann handled!

Jan 28, 2012 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Climate science, you should attend, because sessions about climate-related implications for the pressures on the planet will be a vital underpinning component of the Conference.

It would appear that is just another ScareFest where all parties gather around the PUP2012 theme "We are all doomed".

http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/insight.asp

Jan 28, 2012 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

There is no oxygen in a 'closed' society! You will know it when the oxygen is turned off! Try it! And cynicism is the back end of the beginning of such hatefulness! Let us therefore say that the 'motives' of all scientists are, by definition, honorable and that they must mistake, sometimes, what they feel for what they think. A very common failing!

Jan 28, 2012 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

"Is there any way of making a clear delineation of what is acceptable or unacceptable for scientists to do with their public funding?"

Of course there is. The responsibility lies with the funding agencies whether they be US government agencies, university review boards, or something similar. The problem in the US is that federal agencies are quite happy to fund nonsense and often suggest the nonsense themselves. When review boards at universities consist of scientists from the hard sciences then there is no nonsense about how money is to be spent. Maybe the way to go is to have federal agencies make block grants to the community of scientists at a university and allow that community to dispense the funds.

Unbeknownst to the larger world and maybe even US government funding agencies, quite a few scientists raise their own funds from private individuals. Such scientists have "serious scientist" written all over them.

Jan 28, 2012 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Regarding the posting on Jan 28, 2012 at 11:54 AM by Cumbrian lad:

The C.S. Lewis quotation is apparently from 'God in the Dock' (1948), ISBN 0-8028-0868-9. It's a collection of letters and articles.

Interesting, I read through my copy (1979) edited by Walter Hooper 0 00 625371 7. I couldn't find the quote; wonder why Hooper edited it out?

Jan 28, 2012 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered Commenteroxonmoron

oxonmoron
Googling "It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." throws up no fewer than 296,000 results. All the results on page 1 attribute it to CS Lewis and the third entry on page 2 (http://blog.independent.org/2009/01/29/tyranny-for-the-good-of-its-victims/) refers to God in the Dock.
You could have done that yourself without casting aspersions on Cumbrian Lad.
Sorry if I'm being a bit contentious but I'm a Lewis devotee as well and I was sure the quote was his (though I couldn't have said off-hand where it came from).

Jan 28, 2012 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I believe Tamsin is first and foremost a scientist, proud of scientific integrity and independent of mind. She showed this recently by standing up to the climate bully Gleick. If we can't trust good scientists, who can we trust?

Jan 28, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

Followed that link and found this unsurprising link there:

"Governance experts warn U.N. overhaul required to govern Earth system

Press release |Reducing the risk of potential global environmental disaster requires a “constitutional moment” comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II, say experts preparing the largest scientific conference leading up to next June’s Rio+20 Earth Summit."

http://www.igbp.net/5.20d892f132f30b443080002717.html

I see the Great Biodiversity Crisis, the twisted sister of AGW, is conveniently emerging.

And I also notice that the NYT's Andrew Revkin is attending.

Sigh. In the meantime, the "surprising" financial crisis is proving very convenient to the World Government gang at Davos... to save and protect us, of course.

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:15 PM | Unregistered Commenteredward getty

A click tour around the conference website is revealing- so many familiar political and academic stakeholders. (All the concerned quangoista, plus the good old Economist, Nature, and New York Times hanging on in there, apologies from the BBC and Guardian, times are hard). Clearly any self- respecting mainstream climatologist should attend, if only to be seen to kneel at the alter rail and receive communion of the sacrament.

Special dispensation: [in order to help ensure that there is adequate representation at the conference from the developing world, the organisers are aiming to provide financial assistance to presenters living and working in the developing world (research institutes, NGOs, community groups etc) whose participation in the conference has been accepted. In addition the hope is to also support prospective delegates from the developing world who will not be presenting in conference sessions but who will bring valuable insights and differing world views to the debates. No financial assistance is currently envisaged for those living and working outside of the developing world.]

Accepted as a given, of course, is that some kind of unimaginable doom is inevitable without puritanical abstinance from anything associated with the natural resource wealth contained within the Earth's crust. (=hades =hell)

Pass the plate, pay the tithe (preferably claim it on grants and expenses generously donated from the public purse, see you supervisor to bill it as 'on the job training' if difficulties arise), worship the Gaia of sustainability, and honour her commandments.

Everlasting peace be with you.

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Chairman Al,

Thanks, I appreciate this.

Tamsin

Jan 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

Those with a suspicion that climate science is being used and abused as a vehicle of convenience to attempt to lend substance and justification for a progressive programme of global redistribution of wealth, really need to look no further. Supporters of that goal should campaign for it on its own merits and virtue. Abusing science to hoodwink the public is a shabby, disgraceful and dishonest deceit, however noble the cause.

Jan 28, 2012 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

But this is the point, Pharos, to accuse others of 'bad faith' is to accuse ourselves. I don't think anyone (with one or two egregious exceptions!), as a scientist can be abusing 'science' for their own agenda. What is sad and, perhaps, pitiable, is that they 'think' they are doing science, rather than exercising their 'feelings', which is, often, what, in fact, they're doing! What irritates is not their 'dishonesty' (if only life were that simple) but their lack of self-knowledge, their lack of training in the first, elementary principles of thought!

Jan 28, 2012 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Lewis

I agree that most players (with one or two egregious exceptions) are oblivious of it and blameless. It is counterproductive to accuse. But it is never-the-less blindingly obvious that the process is encouraged and nurtured by 'green' political idealism, and that the process, as recognised in the warnings of Vaclav Klaus, is very reminiscent of a former less than benign regime.

All we can do here, is help scales fall from eyes. And try and peer through the cataracts of our own.

Jan 29, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I note that the average carbon emission per participant was calculated at 2.9 tons, and that each participant will pay a "carbon offset" fee that will be separately set out on their conference registration charge--however, I couldn't locate the amount. Just curious how much they think a ton of carbon is worth these days.

Jan 29, 2012 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterLance Wallace

Pharos, I think the 'greeness' of certain scientist is, sought of, imbibed with their mothers milk. Perhaps, we're at an age when mothers were all 'hippies', or, at least, we know many, many people to whom that could be applied. Still tied...etc! What we have done different, what we hope people can do different, is think and for themselves. What is it about being a 'citizen', a man or woman, rather than a child? It is to learn that trust is not earned but given and that if you don't give it then there is no 'adulthood'!

Jan 29, 2012 at 2:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Also, 'distrust'. Far from me to condone some kind of 'idiot' 'understanding'. But what was 'wrong' with the societies you reference? Not that they 'believed' in anything but, rather, 'believed' in nothing. Cynicism was the norm. A deep and incorrigible inability to 'believe' what anyone said. That 'incorrigibility' I don't want on any society, again. If the 'climate scientists' become a minority, like us, then I will be on their 'side' and defend them to the hilt. I think I know what is the truth but these are historical and moving feasts. Let us be patient, let us await the outcome. For there is very little that we, as individuals, can do about it, never mind 'collectively' . For that is our weakness but, also, our strength - that we are not 'collective' but something other...

Jan 29, 2012 at 3:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

The "Conference Vision"

...Through workshops and seminars, delegates will be encouraged to discuss options and solutions to climate change, energy, food security, water, poverty and other pressing issues.

Oh dear.

Jan 29, 2012 at 5:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

These people have a new variant of Munchausens - they crave some kind of global problem to feed their own neuroses.

Jan 29, 2012 at 5:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

is this sort of abuse and corruption of taxpayer largesse simply a feature of the system rather than a bug?

It's a feature. Anything that is politically funded will tend to have a bias towards promoting more politicisation of society. Climate science being a case in point, coming as it does from politically funded academia.

And there's snowball effect - the more politicised the society, the greater the push for even more politics.

Jan 29, 2012 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

Chairman Al there is alittle more to come:

Dr Tamsin Edwards wrote to Peter Gleick & Katie Hayhoe (ref twitter exchanges), and Peter requested my email addresses. An enlighteningly frank discussion came off it..

My emails from and in reply to Peter will interest many, I think.
What might interest people more is the different perspectives of communication bewtene a UK scientist and a USA one.

I think it will be enlightening for everybody

Given Peter's worldview (formed in a highly polarised USA ) environment. I do have to give him credit for even twittering with myself and Abdrew Montford AT ALL in the past.

And the reason we were twitter blocked, is because of the fall out, whwn Prof Judith Curry made the statement, that Peter had NOT read Donna's book when he reviewed it..

Many people may have thought it... but it was this type of unsubstantiated claim, that irritated me when Peter tweeted about me.

I will try to blog about it in the next day or so.. Peter has clarified what he meant (ie I was never personal abusive) and I have thanked him. He also stand by what he says in his emails...

When I blog, the full email exchanges Pter's mine and Tamsins) will be included for full context (yes I have permision)

Jan 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Communication, Outreach, Public Understanding of Science - these phrases are very much part of the remit of the Research Councils these days. So that aspect is not a moot point. A much more tricky question is where to draw the line between communicating science to the public and blatant political activism.

Jan 29, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Regrding: Jan 28, 2012 at 7:52 PM | Mike Jackson said:

You could have done that yourself without casting aspersions on Cumbrian Lad.
Sorry if I'm being a bit contentious but I'm a Lewis devotee as well and I was sure the quote was his (though I couldn't have said off-hand where it came from).

I was by no means casting aspersions on Cumbrian Lad. I was indeed grateful for his comment. My concern was that I had on my bookcase a copy of God-in-th-Dock in which I could not find the quote. This I attributed to the fact that my copy was a 1979 publication and that the quote had been edited out by someone named Walter Hooper. I merely woundered why Hooper would have done so. That's all.

Jan 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered Commenteroxonmoron

oxonmoron
In which case my sincere apologies.
Both your postings read as if you were suggesting that Cumbrian Lad was being - er - economical with the truth.
Mea culpa

Jan 29, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Jack Hughes

"These people have a new variant of Munchausens - they crave some kind of global problem to feed their own neuroses."

Spot on Jack, another hole in one!

Jan 30, 2012 at 7:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian E

"There is little doubt that many residents of the ivory tower are little more than publicly funded political activists ..."

Sloppy Bish ... presumably you used "many" rather than "most" for good reason - "too many" would have been much better.

Jan 30, 2012 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJC

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