Climate Change 5: The Basic Structural Problem with Climate Change Research

Climate scientists Patrick Michaels and Paul Knappenberger’s terrific new book exposes the “pseudoscience” that the “the debate is over” crowd relies on for their alarmist dictates.  That crowd is big and powerful, but nowhere near 97% of climate scientists (or anybody else) endorse the impoverishing policies that will change our climate in ways that won’t even be measurable 75 years from now.

The book, Lukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes Everything, acknowledges that climate change is real and partially man-made, but shows that the mild, gradual warming we are experiencing doesn’t come close to the catastrophic levels predicted by the model estimates used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While the UN’s IPCC produces a report on the global impact of climate change every six years the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is required by law to produce a similar report for the U.S. every five years.

In climate change, the high-sensitivity [to CO2] paradigm literally is the reason the USGCRP exists.  A low-sensitivity paradigm fails to justify the multibillion dollar USGCRP and obviates the requirement for that particular federal conglomerate to summarize global climate change impacts on the United States every five years.  The invitation to a conflict of interest seems obvious.  The agencies that compose the USGCRP hardly could be expected to lobby for their own demise.  Nor are they likely to acknowledge major problems with their high-sensitivity paradigm.

It can come as no surprise that the agencies involved will fail to lobby and testify before Congress concerning discovery of a serious problem with their paradigm.  There simply is no incentive for them to do so and there is a very powerful incentive for them to drone on about inevitable gloom and doom.

A low-sensitivity approach will not fund the horde of scientists who receive federal support.  And when those individuals peer-review one another’s scientific manuscripts, they can be expected to perceive papers that argue for lower sensitivity as threatening the funding stream.  As a consequence, low-sensitivity research results generally receive vigorous review while those arguing for high sensitivity and large societal impacts are treated just the opposite.

Note: Five-year running mean temperatures predicted by the IPCC’s climate models and observed lower-atmospheric temperatures from weather balloon and satellites.
Note: Five-year running mean temperatures predicted by the IPCC’s climate models and observed lower-atmospheric temperatures from weather balloon and satellites.

There is an additional problem that comes when the USGCRP or the IPCC summarized the available scientific literature in their periodic reviews.  The literature is biased to begin with. After all, the USGCRP finds itself largely summarizing a body of scientific literature generated using money the USGCRP disburses to the research community – funding that is dependent upon adherence to the high-sensitivity paradigm.  …  In the case of the 2013 IPCC report, not one of the 39 models at its core was produced outside of, or without collaboration with, a major government research laboratory.

Michaels and Knappenberger write that in the academy research funding is of paramount importance.  Candidates for promotion in the sciences are fundamentally asked two questions: “What did you publish, and how much taxpayer money did you bring in to support your research?”

So the search for knowledge has become a search for funding, and funding agencies tend to frown upon negative results.

Can anyone seriously believe that a young researcher will get the kind of funding by approaching federal agencies with a proposal that global warming’s future magnitude and effects have been dramatically overforecast?  The mere existence of such a proposal threatens to derail everyone else’s gravy train.  It won’t get funded and the researcher won’t get promoted.

[Authors’ footnote]  For some curious reason, private research support – especially from any industry with a scientific concern – carries much less weight that does government funding in the promotion process.

The Ugly Result:  “All of this is tragic.  In biomedicine, people suffer and die because of falsely promised cures.  In climate change, we get poisonous policies emanating from absurd results generated by climate models that can’t even get the past two decades right.”

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.