Thursday, 13 March 2014

Why doesn't Big Oil fund alternative climate research?

A short post. Asking the question is answering the question.

Jo Nova, an Australian climate ostrich, is begging for money to keep blogging. Anthony Watts helped her with an appeal to his readers. Below his post "ClimateReason" complains:
"We are woefully underfunded and under resourced. Every sceptic I know of has to fund their own projects and have jobs unrelated to their interest in climate.

It takes me a year to research my large articles. Who funds me? No-one. Can I afford the time and money? No. Could I do more if Big Oil funded me? Of course. But they don’t, because money from this source for sceptics is completely imaginary. "
Big Oil prefer to give their money to politicians and PR firms, not to research. That Big Oil does not fund research suggests that even they think mainstream science is solid.

Very solid. If they had just the smallest bit of doubt, it would pay off for them to fund studies on climate change big time. They have so much to lose that money would be largely irrelevant. They already do much research themselves and also fund much external research. Universities get funding from oil companies for a large range of other research topics. Thus the structures are in place, the money is there.

If I had a good idea and could not get funding from national funding agencies, I would have no problem with accepting money from companies. My university certainly would not.

Not that I not expect to have problems with a research proposal because it would challenge the mainstream. On the contrary, I expect that a proposal that challenges the mainstream would have more chances of being funded. Is anything more beautiful fundamental research? Another rhetorical question. However, maybe for more speculative ideas, that are likely to fail, the profit motive of an oil company could improve my funding opportunities. Most scientists would be happy to use such an opportunity.

Poor climate ostriches, not even their oil companies believe in them.

[UPDATE. And with research I mean trying to understand the problem better, not a PR pamphlet that only looks like science.]

From the comments

At WUWT Poptech writes:
I’m not giving anything, I have Jewish family members.
At Nova DMA writes:
I would really appreciate an update on Professor Murry Salby if that fits into your efforts. His presentation was very convincing and I have not seen any credible rebuttal of it so far. I am also concerned for his well being as he was discarded by the university and possibly had his work confiscated as well.
DMS should read AndThenTheresPhysics, Skeptical Science, and Tom Curtis more.

[UPDATE. The moderator at JoNova wrote an inline comment below mine.
Victor you are clearly not familiar with the common stories of skeptical climate scientists being hounded from office or having their funding withdrawn or careers ended. Read here, here, here, here,

We have seen the reaction of the warmist activists to any suggestion that Big Oil or any Industry or any political party provides any funding to the skeptical side of the climate debate. It leads to demonstrations, calls to boycott products and services, and that's when the accusations of funding aren't even true! In Australia Academics have signed petitions to stop skeptics making public presentations. So your assumption that a funding proposal from a skeptic would receive a fair hearing, or would be a reasonable market risk for a private company is naive. - Mod

None of this is relevant for the question why Big Oil does not fund research. Sometimes I wished that the climate ostriches at least made an effort. If "skeptical" scientists were hounded from their offices, one would expect that they would get a much nicer office in a research department of a local oil firm. At least if that oil firm thought the research had some minimal prospects of succeeding.

The first "here" links to a JoNova post on Salby. I hope I do not need to say more, if yes read the above links below the comment by DMS. I am actually a bit shocked that a moderator at JoNova thinks highly of Salby. I was under the impression that JoNova was not one of the most extremist blogs.

The second "here" link is broken. It might be intended that it goes to this report by Greenpeace: Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial 2011 Update. I am quite sure they fund a lot of nonsense, the question is whether they fund real research, studies that help us understand the climate better.

The third "here" goes to a story about "ClimateGate" and the evil Phil Jones that suppresses the truth being published. There are many journals and Phil Jones is not the reviewer of all 277,194 articles known by the Web of Science on climate. If the study is ligit, the worst a reviewer can do is slowing down the publication. My publication record is above average, everyone gets the same salary, thus I can afford having a few manuscripts in the waiting line. No problem. And in the long run, if my study successfully challenges the mainstream, I would be a hero. A little delay is even less of a problem for a scientist sponsored by the oil industry, as long as the boss believes in it.

The fourth "here" link goes to a story about John Kerry calling Global Warming Skeptics 'Disgraceful'. So what? I was thinking of doing real research for the oil company, not of writing disgraceful climate "skeptic" pamphlets. Even if, John Kerry is not my boss. Even if I would work at an US university, he could jump high and low. And this is certainly again even less of a problem for a scientist sponsored by the oil industry. Probably helpful even.

The last link goes to the article: "Academics campaign against Lord Monckton's Lang Hancock lecture". Monckton! Great argument. That is again not science, but PR nonsense. Like in the case of Salby I am somewhat shocked that a moderator would act as if Monckton would make any scientific contribution.

When Roger Pielke Sr. was giving a talk at our institute, the auditorium was packed. Had he just given a scientific talk about his work on exchange processes in his regional climate model, there would have been a few dozen people. Pielke did serious science, no one protested, all his travel expenses were paid by our project. Pielke is not Monckton.]

[UPDATE. On Reddit Scuderia writes:
I think the reason is simple, they don't need to. If climate change is right or wrong people will still be buying fossil fuels as fast as they can pump it out of the ground.
And StellarJayZ writes:
Why bother? When are they ever held responsible?
Sorry, I do not have a Reddit account and will reply here.

To do so, Big Oil needs to fund the campaigns of politicians and PR firms indefinitely. If they could show climate science wrong, that would be a one time action and likely be more cost efficient. If only because scientists are much cheaper as politicians.

And there are already taxes on energy and they are increasing. Partially due to political pressure of people wanting to reduce the effects of climate change. Without these taxes, demand would be higher and consequently also the net prices. You can always put faster, if it would pay, have a little faith in capitalism.]


  1. This is a variation of an argument I use when when people claim the data is faked...

    "If so, why doesn't Exxon spend a small fraction of the PR budget and fund competent researchers that can reveal the fraud? The fact that they don't means either they are incompetent or they already know the answer"

    A similar version is the Koch Bros. who actually did fund some climate research and did not get the answer they "paid for", i.e. the results BEST collaboration. All that came out of that was Richard Muller lost his skepticism about climate change...

  2. Hi Flakmeister, yes I did not think the argument is new, I have also used it in discussions a few times. I thought it would be worth a post, to make it easier to refer to it and use this argument more often.

    It is not a scientific argument, but I think it is a strong argument against the conspiracy theorists.

  3. Of course it is not a scientific argument, but it is certainly one that could convince a jury..

    Call it "The Hound of the Baskervilles" gambit. And I find quite effective...

  4. Hi Victor - a quick question:
    You state in this post that there are "277,194 articles known by the Web of Science on climate." Did you just enter 'climate change' in the basic search field on WOS for this? When I do that search for only the period 2003-2014, I get 222,995 results. What a remarkable amount of thought is going into this topic (27,653 results in the social sciences and humanities alone).

    Speaking of remarkable amounts of thought, I hope Jo Nova's list of 'persecuted Galileos' illustrates how seriously she should be taken.

    Really. Having Monckton speak about climate change at the Fremantle University of Notre Dame is a bit like having Ronald McDonald speak at a conference on child nutrition.

  5. Yes, I just typed the term. No limitations on times or fields of study.

    The number of articles on almost any topic is quickly growing. Publish or perish is spreading around the world and when the competition is publishing more, you have to follow.

    The term climate change is probably growing faster. Especially non-climatologists work a lot on climate impact research for adaptation. And they try to link their work with climate change to make it easier to get published. In many cases they do almost the same work as they would otherwise have done without climate change and it is just window dressing.


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