"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Science Budget Talking Point

REPOSTING: The following was originally posted April 8, 2007. (Note: the first dozen comments are also from 2007.)

I am hoping to see recent numbers. I imagine the 2010 budget will show some improvement but as far as I know the annual US budget for climate science research (as opposed to data collection or impacts studies) through 2009 remains comparable to the budget for a Pixar movie.

I believe that the sort of auditability people are asking for is 1) actually a good idea and 2) not supportable by tghe present small community with its tightly constrained budget. Given that the actual issue is four or five orders of magnitude larger than the science budget, it makes sense to expend considerably more on a more formal science. Meanwhile, people who are complaining about the informality and close-knit nature of the community should be advocating for budget increases, not cuts.

The auditability people are butting heads against the myth that the climate science community is wealthy.

April 8, 2007

The claim that scientists have been conspiratorially drumming up climate fears to increase our funding appears specious to most of us. How would such a conspiracy be organized? How would we prevent defections? Nevertheless this idea has currency with the public. Supporting this argument is the idea, apparently promoted by Lindzen that the climate science budget has ballooned enormously.

It is true that there are 2 billion under a "climate change" rubric, but in fact half of it is NASA's earth observation missions, a program which I would think any sane person would support. The massive "growth" of the program in its early days was not due to new projects but due to enfolding existing projects under the new name.

So what has happened to the science budget over the past sixteen years in fact? It has increased by 9% after inflation. Adjusted for inflation, actual US climate research (not data collection, not data dissemination, not technology or adaptation research, not impacts research, but the part that climate scientists stand to benefit from, has increased by 9% since 1993 according to the GAO.

More or less. The GAO adds the caveat "these data were difficult to compare over the entire time period because CCSP periodically introduced new categorization methods without explaining how the new methods were related to the ones they replaced". (page 4)

Can the climate research budget actually been in decline? Anecdotally, I have been hearing about "belt tightening" through my entire career.

The climate research budget of NSF, which funds most of what most of us think of as climate science, including most climate modeling, is inconsistent over the period. It has wild oscillations but shows no trend. (see p 35 of the GAO report; note these figures are not inflation-adjusted) and is about 10% of the total CCSP budget, about 200 million, enough to support maybe about 600 scientists and professional staff (consider infrastructure needs, travel and publication costs, and equipment).

What about the near future? Well, here I can only report the entire CCSP aggregate, which is [12/09: sorry, link is dead] in a period of rapid decline, of about 20% over 4 years.

Boy, this scaremongering isn't paying as well as you might think.

Admittedly, most of the cuts are out of NASA's earth observation budget, which is a bit beside the point, though it is really enormously unfortunate. However, Mars seems to be a bigger priority than the Earth these days, because, um, well because you don't need a rocketship to get to the Earth, now do you?


Tony Lee said...

Thank you, Michael, for this blog. For someone who's trying to make sense of this debate from a social science perspective (yes, I'm not a true scientist, your posts are valuable insights I don't see elsewhere.

I have a question, though. That sceptics are framing their message well is undeniable, and they continue to gain a lot of traction with many people. While their fantasy conspiracy about climate scientists is ridiculous on the face, how believable is it that they themselves are selling their credentials to the highest (oil corporation) bidder? Have you had personal experience of this? What motivates Lindzen?

A related question: a lot of sceptic sites have link after link to pdfs touting the latest sceptic research. It seems to my untrained eye that they're trying to create an alternative research sphere, parallel and disconnected the mainstream of climate science. Am I right in this? How many of these alternative articles are peer-reviewed?

Thanks again for your work in this crucial area.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, "Plum", for your kind words.

I try to refrain from comment on motivations of any individual. It seems counterproductive.

I am no expert on these matters but as I understand it there is little doubt that some of the noise has been funded by some fossil fuel interests, notably Exxon/Mobil and a coal company called the Western Fuels Association. There may well be others.

As for the "alternative research sphere", yes, that's the "echo chamber effect". I have seen a few of these. I am sure that the small subset of peer-reviewed articles will be trumpeted as such.

For instance there's a completely wrong analysis of ice cores by some Polish nuclear medicine specialist that got in one of the real journals once.

It was dismissed with a single line in a subsequent review article and never appears again in the citation index, but it's still frequently brought up by the do-nothingists (who don't like to be called denialists but don't deserve to be called skeptics).

Andrew Dessler said...

I usually try to make the point that scientists and our funding would be doing much better if we concluded that there was too much uncertainty for us to make any inference about human forcing of the climate. In that situation, governments would likely throw lots more funding at the problem.

By concluding that humans are very likely causing climate change, I suspect that we actually reduce the impetus for further funding.

Anonymous said...

Michael- Congrats on the blog ... you are correct that climate science funding has been declining -- some data and discussion here:


What matters is both how much is funded and also what is funded. Dan Sarewitz and I discuss this here:


But as Andrew Dessler suggests, if you want to tie the climate research community in knots, ask them if we now know enough to act.

Best wishes from Boulder.

James Annan said...

ISTM the issue is not so much the total funding as the ratio of jobs to those seeking them. The pyramid scheme nature of scientific research means that there is bound to be a lot of people scrabbling for limited resources. It would be extraordinary if this situation did not put pressure on people to oversell the importance/value of their particular research.

Of course, it keeps the labour relatively cheap, but there are signs that increased understanding of the situation is leading to a reduction in supply, with several science departments in UK universities closing or close to it, due to a lack of students. While some aspects of this might be regrettable, I find it hard to get too upset over it for personal reasons!

Andrew Dessler said...

In response to Roger, I don't think such a question would cause the scientific community any consternation. I think that virtually all scientists believe that we do indeed know enough to act --- although this is a normative and not a scientific statement. And they would say that with full knowledge that such a statement will probably not maximize the community's funding.

The only people saying that there's too much uncertainty to act are G.W. Bush et al.

Michael Tobis said...

James, your Ponzi scheme observation is a very interesting point, and one which applies to science as a whole.

That's sort of beside the point I am making here. The neinsagers (*)
claim that IPCC inflates the problem out of cynical selfishness, which is bad enough. But now they are quoting cherry picked numbers (surprised?) that leave the impression that the cynical selfishness is effective. This is yet another point where they are leaving an incorrect impression of what the evidence says.

(*) = OK, we really need a name for those people that is less respectful than "skeptic" and more so than "crypto-Nazi", even though the latter, as an interpretation of "denialist", is a specious back-formation.

Anonymous said...

> How believable ...
Check the appendices to this report, which you should be familiar with.


If you didn't read it, read all the way through to the appendices.

Anonymous said...


http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=857#comment-52757 Dr. Lindzen, as quoted by Dr. Curry, nails this one I think -- "industry stooges ... "

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks for that last link, Hank. The reaction of the CA echo squad to Judith Curry's excellent commentary and dignified exit is fascinating.

Heiko said...

Following up on what James says, you don't have to believe in conspiracies to see why researchers, or for that matter anybody really, would want to exaggerate the importance of their work when seeking funding; and much funding/scientific reputation hangs on whether you get published, and whether you get published at least partially depends on whether you can sell the results as important.

EliRabett said...

Thanks for the GAO report. I've been looking for something like that quite a while. Still, the time frame is not quite as long as I would like. I recall that the satellite programs really got a huge push in the very early 90s/early 80s, and my experience with NASA is that straight science programs have either held steady or declined since then. Same for NSF.

Arthur said...

Actually, Michael (on your second comment here) - I think it is perhaps now at the point where we should name names. If Lindzen has taken money from fossil fuel interests, directly or indirectly, why not state it clearly rather than being circumspect. Those who do not have clean hands should be called to account.

For the record, I have absolutely no ties to any financial motive on this issue.

David B. Benson said...

What is now needed is action on a heroic scale.

Dano said...

Arthur is exactly correct - we are talking about talking points. Let everyone audit their financial ties and let us not hide the decline. The public can see who gets money from where and make up their own minds. Let us see if the vested interests think that is a good idea.



Word verif agrees perfectly: anesseur

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