Opinion by Andy May
I wrote my latest book, Politics and Climate Change: A History, because I recognized that government funding of scientific research was corrupting science. We were warned this might happen by President Eisenhower in his farewell address to the public, where he said:
“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.” (Eisenhower, 1961)
How right he was.
Federal money allows unelected and protected civil service bureaucrats to control scientific research. They dictate the projects, and often outcomes. They use selective leaks to the press to embarrass any elected politicians who try to interfere with their control over research. The bureaucrats trade in fear and relish it. Politicians who disagree with them are suppressing or ignoring “science.” To them science is not a search for the truth, it is a dogma that must be believed. Worse, they believe a consensus of experts is scientific fact. Science is a method of disproving consensus opinion with observational facts, analysis, and reason. It is a methodology, honed over centuries, that allows one person to show everyone else they are wrong. Science is the opposite of political consensus.
Government money clearly does not improve research, the theoretical estimates of the impact of man-made CO2 have not narrowed in 41 years, as we discussed in our last two posts, here and here. Despite billions in government spending, the IPCC AR5 report (IPCC, 2013) still says the impact of doubling CO2 is between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, exactly the same range given in the Charney Report (Charney, et al., 1979). Empirical observation-based estimates, like the one by Nic Lewis and Judith Curry (Lewis & Curry, 2018), have narrowed, but these were not government funded. The funding did not improve science, it was not intended to improve the science, it was political.
The bureaucrats use an ignorant and compliant news media to demonize any privately funded scientific research as “corrupted” by “evil” corporations. The bureaucrats enlist the support of non-profit activists, supported by giant foundations, owned, and controlled by billionaires. These billionaires seek influence and political power. The non-profits, in turn, lobby the press to get their version of the story out. Every company doing independent research is compared to an evil tobacco company and accused of lying to the public. The book contains many examples of this.
This demonization is an attempt to deny corporations, farmers, and workers a voice in debates over government regulations and environmental issues. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a left-wing advocacy non-profit organization that pretends to be scientific. It is well known for slanting its “research” to get desired results (Activist Facts, 2020). Their report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose (Grifo, Halpern, & Hansel, 2012), is a blatant attempt to suppress any scientific debate of government regulations by private corporations. The science is not debated or explained, one can imagine journalists and non-profits funded by billionaires saying, “The public doesn’t need to understand this, we tell them what to think!”
In the words of the Australian wordsmith, Joanne Nova:
“A trial without a defense is a sham
Business without competition is a monopoly
Science without debate is propaganda“
Remember this the next time someone says the “science is settled.”
Grifo, et al. complain that there is “inappropriate influence of companies with a financial stake in the outcome.” If the companies have a financial stake in the outcome, they should be involved in the regulatory debate, how can it be otherwise in a republic? These companies have a first amendment right to be involved. Grifo, et al. are demanding what President Eisenhower feared, “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite” (Eisenhower, 1961).
President Eisenhower had two fears, he was worried that scientists would take over public policy and that government officials would control scientific research and outcomes. We now have a devilish combination of the two.
Why have privately funded research?
The UCS fears that companies will be dishonest. They do not believe companies should use litigation to threaten their opponents into being silent, change their views, or destroy their reputations. They also fear that corporations will not be transparent (Grifo, Halpern, & Hansel, 2012, p. 45). Yet as explained in Chapter 3 of our book, the UCS did all these things when they attacked ExxonMobil in the “ExxonKnew” campaign. We expect people to be aggressive in a debate, but we need the debate, and we need both sides to be in it. If one side is excluded or suppressed in any fashion, our republic is gone, and a dictatorship or oligarchy is formed.
In the 19th and pre-WWII 20th century universities and private sector corporations and individuals worked closely together on research and academic programs. This was a good combination; universities tailored their degree programs and their research toward what industry needed. This supplied the corporations with well-trained employees and helped develop new products that improved the world.
The post-war explosion of federal funding of research is beginning to slow and simultaneously business funding has been increasing since about 2005. This is a good trend, but unfortunately, federal spending on research is still almost double corporate spending (Mervis, 2017). As a result, university research is still more oriented toward government projects than business ventures and the government projects tend toward fearmongering projects like climate change, rather than projects that create new products and better society. We believe government funding of research should be no more than corporate funding, and ideally zero because the government tends to fund projects that are political, destructive, and divisive.
Japan (Kazuyuki & Shingo, 2011) and China have many business-oriented university projects with American companies. However, the projects in China are often with American companies like Microsoft or Google and are designed to steal U.S. technology (Song, 2008). Estimates vary, but Chinese intellectual property theft amounts to $225 billion to $600 billion per year according to many sources (Huang & Smith, 2019). According to the National Law Review:
“China’s typical modus operandi is to steal American IP, replicate it, replace the U.S. company originating that IP in the Chinese domestic market, then displace the United States in the global market.” (Laufman, Casino, & Kasdan, 2020)
In the United States, liberal non-profit organizations, the news media, and some in government have driven a wedge between the natural collaboration of universities and business by demonizing the businesses and any funding they provide to universities. This has hurt the businesses, the universities, and research in general. It only helps our global competitors. University climate change research is oriented toward creating elaborate scenarios that predict the end of the earth. The scenarios are used to try and eliminate millions of jobs in the fossil fuel industry. They want to create fear in the public and make them more manageable. This increases government power since the public will often give up their rights and their jobs to gain security.
In the 1970s, the news media predicted we would all die due to global cooling as explained in Chapter 6 of our book. Some scientists even blamed human emissions of CO2 for the cooling. The media love a good disaster prediction and if humans are to blame, the story is even better. Then warming began and again CO2 was the reason. Now we are all going to die from CO2-caused global warming. The shameless media didn’t apologize or even blink, they published that as well. When global cooling begins again, as it inevitably will, count on the media to find a compliant scientist to blame CO2.
It isn’t just the government funding. Media attention motivates universities to come up with scary end-of-the-world stories, rather than products that improve and save lives. Media attention means more government money. As government money begins to drive university research, the universities become more isolated from the businesses they are supposed to be training employees for. Students want high-profile government jobs so they can save the world and ignore the more beneficial and productive jobs in industry. Those jobs go overseas.
University tuition and costs have gone up, but even accounting for increasing college costs, on average attending college is still worth it (Abel & Deitz, 2014). This may not be the case in the future, technology may erode the premium that college graduates can demand in the marketplace (Staton, 2014).
This is all happening as the United States has allowed our technology to be stolen by China and other countries. Onerous regulations, justified by sketchy and secret EPA funded research have forced high-paying, high value-add, manufacturing overseas. Other excessive regulations, often designed and justified with secret government scientific research, have made some extraction businesses (mining, oil, and gas) in the United States excessively expensive or economically impossible.
We are not only sending technology, manufacturing, and extraction overseas, we are simultaneously killing it in the United States and in Europe. As high value-add jobs and high salaries leave, the value of a university education becomes less. Service industry jobs, such as mowing lawns, waitressing, or becoming a store clerk, pay less and these are the jobs laid off technology, manufacturing, and extraction labor are forced into. These jobs do not require university degrees, but many with college degrees are forced into them when the sectors they work in disappear. The universities helped engineer the decline in western technology, manufacturing, and extraction and now they are engineering their own decline.
Businesses are far less likely to trust university educations as they become less involved in degree programs. Students are graduating with more debt as costs go up and make less income to pay it back. Many degrees have become valueless. It has been estimated that student debt exceeds 1.5 trillion dollars in the U.S. (Hanson, 2020). This debt slows home buying, marriage and child-rearing, the most important stimulants to our economy.
Victor Davis Hanson speculated in National Review that universities are sowing the seeds of their own obsolescence (Hanson, 2020). He is correct. To make universities more relevant to our nation, youth, and economy, we must drastically reduce or eliminate government funded university research.
Defense research, of necessity, must remain under government control and must be done in secret. But, except for defense, the government should withdraw from research funding. Universities need to reform and enlarge their relationships with private industry. Cutting off government funding of research would force this to occur. They must orient their research toward productive areas that create new products, improve our wellbeing, and expand the economy. Their faculties will be forced to move in the same direction and produce better workers for industry. The doom-and-gloom orientation of much of our university Earth science research today is poisonous and destructive.
The media have made scientists into gods that spout “truth” and “prove” things. Neither is possible, as we have seen, scientists only propose temporary ideas and then attempt to disprove them. Truths, or more accurately facts, only exist until disproven. Politicians choose scientists that “prove” things convenient to politicians. Witness the corruption of the scientists in the IPCC, as described in Chapter 7 and elsewhere in the book.
Socrates was a scientist who was killed by politicians in 399BC. Socrates believed that people should question everything. His discussions were full of questions, the questions led to more questions, it was his way of learning and teaching. He never proved anything, but he learned. Finally, by questioning the local gods and religion, he was killed. He defied the consensus with his skepticism and died for it (World History edu, 2020). Scientific debate is essential, and the less popular debater should not be jailed or killed.
The public and the news media, who should be asking probing questions, have become convinced that they cannot understand science. They are reduced to asking scientists to spoon feed them sound bites. With a little work, most lay people can understand scientific papers and they should try. Relying on politicians, scientists, and the media to tell us what is happening is not acceptable. Scientists should write more that can be understood by lay people, as John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius did. Scientists should graduate from writing plots for disaster movies to working to improve our lives. The news media are awful at writing about science because they often have no interest in what is true, they just want attention.
This opinion is condensed from Chapter 8 of Politics and Climate Change: A History
The bibliography can be downloaded here.
A pdf of this post can be downloaded here.