Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fudged global-warming data melt under scrutiny

Published in The Tennessean, Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fudged global-warming data melt under scrutiny

by Richard J. Grant

Have you noticed how often it is assumed that people in business are ruthless, greedy and unprincipled in their pursuit of profit, but that people in government are assumed to be selfless, benevolent and unerring in their pursuit of social justice?

Is there something about the two types of service that magically transforms human nature, or is there just some mysterious sorting mechanism?

Here's an example. A corporation, let's say a big oil company, gives a monetary grant to a group for the purpose of funding research related to the issue of climate change. Around the same time, a government agency gives a monetary grant to another group, also for the purpose of funding research related to the issue of climate change. Is there a difference? Are the results of the two grants portrayed in the media in exactly the same way?

If the research results cast doubt on the current great social cause célèbre, it is unlikely that the recipients of the corporate funding will escape being labeled as obviously biased, in the pocket of big business. The common assumption is that the results will always support the corporation's interest. But no such stigma is automatically attached to governmental funding of such research, even though a contrary result may be just as likely to lead to loss of future funding.

When an issue is politicized in the way that the issue of "man-made global warming" is, it is reasonable to assume that those who dispense the funds will harbor hopes about the results expected to come from the research. This is not to suggest that researchers are necessarily corrupted by the source of their funding, but there can be a mutual self-selection, and some researchers seem to have a strong desire to please.

Does size matter when it comes to influence or temptation? It should be noted that while private funding of climate-change research is measured in the millions, government funding is measured in billions of dollars.

Also, those who manage to find evidence supporting an activist "carbon reduction" program just happen to receive aggregate funding that is two to three orders of magnitude greater than those researchers who find no cause for alarm.

This lopsided funding might help explain the widespread belief that global warming must be a clear and present danger. And the high stakes might help explain the stridency of the debate such as it is. One side, however, insists that there is a "consensus," that "the science is settled," and that anyone who disagrees with the need for massive government intervention to abate global warming is either morally or intellectually defective.

That the science is not settled is demonstrated by the large number of scientists who do, indeed, stand against the so-called consensus. There have also long been charges from independent researchers that some leading believers in anthropogenic global warming have been mishandling the statistics. A famous example of such mishandling involves Michael Mann, the Penn State researcher who has had to step down from his job pending investigation of the recent "Climategate" e-mail scandal.

The e-mails are important because they purport to show Mr. Mann and other "top climate researchers" joking about how to fudge the statistics to get the results they want.
This raises the question of integrity with regard to the work of Mann, et al. whenever they have presented statistical series, such as their famous "hockey stick" graph that claims to show global temperatures remaining flat until the industrial era, and then rising sharply. Unfortunately for Mr. Mann, two Canadian statistics experts, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, had already shown how Mann's methods, not the data, made the past look cooler and recent times appear significantly hotter. Fudge melts.

The fear of catastrophic, man-made global warming is a socialist's dream. It offers rich opportunities for the aggrandizement of government. If it didn't exist, they would invent it. Did they?

Richard J. Grant is a professor of finance and economics at Lipscomb University and a scholar at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. His column will appear on Sundays.

Copyright © Richard J Grant 2009