Archive for December 18th, 2009

The Strange Spread of Climate Denial

By Chris Mooney | December 18, 2009 1:29 pm

Over at Mother Jones’ blog “Blue Marble,” I’ve got a post/essay on a topic that I started thinking about after my Wednesday night panel with the Guardian’s George Monbiot in Copenhagen–namely, why is there suddenly a new surge of climate denial? The post starts like this:

George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist and global warming author who combines pugilistic defenses of climate science with Monty Pythonesque levity, is struck by a paradox at the heart of the attempt to achieve action here in Copenhagen. For, as he put it to a full room last night at a panel hosted by the Danish science magazine FORSKERForum, “In the past year, there has been a massive upsurge in climate change denial in the United States, even as the science gets stronger.”

Opinion polls certainly support Monbiot’s contention. According to results released in October by the Pew Research Center, considerably fewer Americans now believe the Earth is warming (the decline has been from 71 percent to 57 percent over the space of a year and a half). And as for agreement with scientists about the cause of global warming—human activities, human emissions—that too has sloped downwards, to just 36 percent today.

How is this possible?

Keep reading here for Monbiot’s, and my, answer.

Great Science, Great Scientists, and Funding

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 18, 2009 11:35 am

Eric has an interesting post up on the age distribution for recipients of NIH grants since 1980:


He writes that it’s difficult for young U.S. researchers to obtain funding and points to Darwin and Einstein as examples of scientists with revolutionary ideas in their 20s–even though we tend to remember them as old men in photos.

While it’s a thought-provoking point, to be fair we really need to consider that there is more to this discussion than the most obvious factors. Yes, older PIs receive the lion’s share of funding, but these trends also reflect the large hiring periods in the past as university faculty members age. I agree that in many instances, scientists may be doing their most creative, groundbreaking research early, however, success during this time is not necessarily measured by obtaining large grants given few can land the job to be eligible until their mid-30s. Rather, it’s a crucial period for obtaining a faculty position, so the most promising young scientists may go on to recruit a lab, and eventually apply for such grants from a stronger position.

The trend’s shift right over decades may also reflect that postdocs are no longer allowed to be PIs on grants at many universities that do not want to lose a portion of overhead when the person leaves. In addition, agencies such as NIH provide a vast amount of fellowships to fund legions of graduate students (especially in the biomedical sciences) so it’s important to acknowledge that support to young scientists comes in many forms. NIH provides an enormous number of postdoc fellowships as well.

I do like Eric’s point that perhaps we should consider young Darwin and Einstein as iconic figures before their hair whitened. Still, we must remember that many complex factors are at play influencing the initial graph. The real question to consider is whether such grants are adequately funding early tenure track professors.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Education, Science Workforce
MORE ABOUT: funding, grants, NIH, postdocs

Sifting Through "ClimateGate," Finding Very Little

By Chris Mooney | December 18, 2009 10:23 am

There is a really good piece up at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media that looks at the top five most prominent issues raised in “ClimateGate”, analyzes the relevant emails in context, and finds some concerns but not much wrong–with the notable exception of the suggestion that emails subject to a Freedom of Information request be deleted. The article’s author, Zeke Hausfather, concludes:

It is unfortunate, if perhaps not surprising, that the quotes from the e-mails that have gotten the most publicity from skeptics and in some media strongly distort the views and actions of the scientists in question, contributing to a perception of collusion to manipulate the climate data itself.

Nothing contained in the e-mails, however, suggests that global temperature records are particularly inaccurate or, worse, that they have been manipulated to show greater warming. The  certainly troubling conduct exposed in some of the e-mails has little bearing on the fundamental science that strongly indicates that the world is warming and that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause.

You should read the whole piece, for it clearly and soberly shows just how much this has been blown out of proportion.


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