Cross-posted from Coyote Blog:
I am sort of the anti-conspiracy theorist. I have written a number of times that events people sometimes explain as orchestrated conspiracies often can be explained just as well by assuming that people with similar preferences and similar information and similar incentives will respond to these incentives in similar ways.
I think the great herd-think around climate alarmism is a good example, and the Bishop Hill blog brings us a specific illustration from the comment section of Watts Up With That. A commenter observed that it was pretty hard to believe that thousands of scientists could be participating in a conspiracy. Another commenter wrote back:
Actually not so hard.
Last spring when I was shopping around for a new source of funding, after having my funding slashed to zero 15 days after going public with a finding about natural climate variations, I kept running into funding application instructions of the following variety:
Successful candidates will:
1) Demonstrate AGW [ed: Anthropogenic Global Warming]
2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of AGW.
3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.
Follow the money — perhaps a conspiracy is unnecessary where a carrot will suffice.
If only alarmist results are funded, then it should not be surprising that only alarmist studies are produced.
By the way, it is probably incorrect to think of climate science really being driven by 2500 scientists. Here is an analogy: Strategy at General Motors is in some sense driven by thousands of workers – salesmen who know the market, channel managers who know their distribution partners, planners who watch econometric trends, manufacturers who know what can and can’t be done with costs, engineers who see what the next technological opportunities, etc. — you get the idea.
But realistically, there are probably 20-25 people who are really setting and driving and communicating the corporate strategy for GM. And those 20-25 people will likely say to the public that their strategy is supported by all those 200,000 workers. But in fact there are thousands, maybe even a majority, that would say that they don’t support the strategy and don’t think that strategy is consistent with their bit of knowlege.
I think climate science works roughly the same way. The same 20-25 people are lead authors on the IPCC, write key reports, contribute to Al Gore’s movie, get quoted in the NY Times, run the Realclimate web site, and, of course, feature prominently in the CRU emails. And while these 25 may claim thousands of scientists support their conclusions based on the mere fact that these other scientists contributed to an IPCC report that had these conclusions, many of these scientists, when actually asked, will disagree.
Here is one thing that is never mentioned — most of the scientists outside of climate science who have gone on the record somewhere as supporting catastrophic man-made global warming theory, if you really talked to them, would say they made their statement in support of science, not global warming theory. Most of these folks really haven’t dug into the details, but the problem was presented to them as one of science vs. anti-science. They are told by their peers and the media that AGW skeptics are all fundamentalist super right-wing anti-science evolution deniers who think the Earth is 4000 years old.
By saying they support AGW, these scientists are really trying to make the statement that they support science. The bitter irony is that they are doing the opposite, enabling those in the core of the climate community who are trying to duck criticism and replication by demanding unquestioning respect for their authority. The fact is that nearly every time one of these outsider scientists – a physicist or a geologist or a statistician, say – digs into the science, they are appalled at what they find and how bad the science behind catastrophic AGW theory really is.