a less-than-noble consensus

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    Published in the AFR 3 May 2011

    A Less-Than-Noble Consensus

    Garth Paltridge

    We hear that Julia Gillard is happy to have the CSIRO, the Bureau of
    Meteorology and the Australian Academy of Science on her side while
    making her arguments for a carbon tax. Well of course she is. She and
    her predecessors bought them. And bought them good. Over the last
    couple of years her Department of Climate Change (the DCC) gave them
    27 million dollars in the form of research grants. That pays a fair swag
    of the salaries of the CSIRO and Bureau climate scientists who make up
    the majority of all employed climate scientists in Australia.

    University climate researchers, while relatively few in number, are
    vocal enough to be heard in many public forums. Julia has bought
    them too with another 5.5 million dollars from the same source. That
    sort of money is handy in the university environment, since it is mostly
    on top of already assured salaries. Moreover, it is fairly easy to get.
    Certainly it is much easier than normal university research funds which
    come mainly from the Australian Research Council ? this after a soul-
    destroying application and peer-review procedure that wipes out 80% of
    the applications and reduces the individual grant moneys to sub-optimal
    levels. Julia?s climate money is very different. Among other things it
    can be put towards such niceties as business-class travel to the many
    international workshops and conferences that are part of the climate-
    change industry.

    The bottom line is that virtually all climate research in Australia is
    funded from one source ? namely, the government department which has
    the specific task of selling to the public the idea that something drastic
    and expensive has to be done to the structure of society in the name of
    mitigating climate change. And if you think that government agencies
    shouldn?t be in the game of social engineering, then you are way behind
    the times. Over the last two years more than 100 million dollars was
    distributed by the DCC for exactly that purpose.

    So there can be no doubt that climate-research grant recipients know
    perfectly well that scepticism concerning the climate-change story

    does very little for their careers. One therefore wonders a bit about the
    much-vaunted consensus of the global warming establishment regarding
    climatic doom.

    Surely there is no way a whole scientific discipline can be subverted,
    either consciously or subconsciously, by crass materialism? Well, maybe
    not in the long term. But if past experience is any guide, the sorting out
    of a problem of vested scientific interest can take many decades. At the
    moment, climate scientists are trapped in the coils of a disaster theory
    sold prematurely to the world at large. They are supporting the theory
    with long-term forecasts about an atmosphere-ocean system whose
    behaviour in many respects is inherently unpredictable. On the one
    hand, public discussion of the uncertainties associated with the ?main
    conclusions of the science? must be discouraged, and on the other there
    is a need for sufficient uncertainty to justify a continued flow of research
    funding. In short, they are in a right-royal mess of political correctness.

    The average climate scientist is extremely reluctant to go against the
    tide of official opinion set by the research activists of his field, whatever
    might be his private thoughts on the matter. Loyalty to colleagues gets
    in the way, and perhaps also the seductive attraction of a ?noble cause?.
    With those sorts of justification, it is much easier for an idealistic scientist
    to be mindful of the fact that, when Julia buys people, they have to stay
    bought if they want to continue in the game.

    Surely there are independent scientific establishments whose advice can
    be trusted by both government and public? Well yes there are ? most
    of the time. The Australian Academy of Science is a prime example.
    But one has to mumble a bit when talking about the independence of
    such bodies in the context of climate change. They generally don?t have
    much in-house expertise on the subject, and when asked for advice, are
    obliged to put together committees of advisors from the relevant research
    establishments. It is not too difficult to imagine where the advisors come
    from. Moreover, it costs money to service a committee. Guess where
    that comes from.

    Would ?big-oil? funded research be any less reliable than this?

    Garth Paltridge 7/4/11
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