‘Grantsmanship’ Distorts Global Warming Science

‘Grantsmanship’ Distorts Global Warming Science

By Jerome J. Schmitt

Almost every day another species of plant or animal is “discovered” to be threatened by global warming. I read a new report concerning moose in Scandinavia that are unexpectedly “threatened” despite what researchers admit is a growing population. Penguins are in danger from loss of Antarctic ice even though the Antarctic ice-cap is known to be growing with colder temperatures recorded in the southern hemisphere in recent years according to NASA. Fortunately for these species — which hitherto managed to survive and thrive on their own for hundreds of thousands or millions of years — intrepid 21st Century researchers have arrived on the scene with Al Gore just in time to “rescue” them from climate change. How is it possible that such disparate species all around the globe are in such dire straights all at once?

Perhaps it has less to do with actual species’ population trends and other such noisome facts and more to do with a novel nexus between the news-media and “grantsmanship” among academic researchers who have hit upon a winning formula: if one ties one’s research project somehow — even via the most tenuous and flimsy grounds — to global warming, one’s grant proposal will have much greater chance to be selected for funding, one’s chances of appearing on 60 Minutes or NPR are greatly increased, and as a consequence of this positive PR for one’s project, university and funding agency, one’s grant is more likely to be renewed.In contrast, if one continues to toil on relatively obscure scholarship where actual scientific data is important, trend lines have meaning, and logical debate is allowed, the chances of winning funding for one’s work are greatly reduced. Scientists have learned therefore that they will be rewarded handsomely by identifying any tangential connection between their favorite studies and “global warming” alarmism. Like Pavlov’s dog with a PhD.


Scientists are people too and, like anyone, crave a moment in the limelight, with his or her work celebrated in the news-media as being “relevant”. Thus a moose expert who has toiled in anonymity for decades will find that if he or she mentions that the moose might be “threatened” by global warming, he or she is suddenly lionized by the media as another “expert” chiming in about the dangers of climate change (cf. first link above). And being an “expert”, it is difficult for the layman (i.e. your average person who has not toiled for decades studying moose) to refute the assertion no matter how spurious the moose-expert’s “science”. We should acknowledge that even moose experts can be taken in by the anthropogenic global-warming hoax. A plant expert sees the moose expert win enormous attention and acclaim and thus inspired concludes “suddenly” that his or her favorite plant is somehow also affected by climate change in the hope of drawing similar positive attention — and grant money.


Let’s examine this media-grant nexus more closely and follow the money. First, note that the source of funding for most basic scientific research in the US is the federal government (national governments in other countries) administered via funding agencies such as the DOE, EPA, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, NASA and at times the DOD. These funds originate in congressional appropriations. These funds are “spent” at universities, national labs, and independent non-profit research labs via peer-reviewed grant competitions seeking cutting edge research projects to fund in the wide variety of scientific disciplines.These competitions are “refereed” by experts (peers) selected by the agency for the purpose of judging the competition (DARPA, by the way, uses a different mechanism for selecting their R&D contractors). Peer review has served our nation well since WWII and has, for the most part, insured the high quality of the American scientific enterprise. There is nothing wrong with “grantsmanship” per se — it is the scientific world’s version of “salesmanship” — but like good salesmen and women who know their customer, scientists know their customer wants projects relevant to “climate change”.


Peer review is intended to insulate the process from politics. But in today’s hyper-politicized world of “climate change” alarmism, I believe the insulation has broken down — particularly since statist politicians view climate-change hysteria as pretext for seizing control of the global energy industry. Here’s how this might work. Although peer-review is the gate-keeper for selection of grant-projects, agencies set the scoring criteria against which proposals are measured. Being human, agency bureaucrats also are highly attuned to congressional whims and desires — as well as public perceptions of research needs — and undoubtedly have added “climate-change” to their research mission and accordingly “relevance to climate-change” as criterion for selection of grant proposals.


Congressmen and their staffers see “climate change” recorded in an agency’a official mission and are consequently more satisfied that the research funded with tax-payer dollars is “relevant”, “timely” and addresses a perceived “crisis” — the “experts” says so after all. Grant writing biologists respond by pounding whatever square peg may be their research interest (moose, penguin — it doesn’t matter) by tenuous and tendentious arguments into the round hole of “climate change” alarmism and are rewarded with more grants.

As if taking their cue after last week’s ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service that the polar bear is “threatened”, the UN IPPC announced a new scientific study that concludes almost all species are already being damaged by “global warming”. Here’s a part of the UK Guardian’s account:
“When you look at a map of the world and see where these changes are already happening, and how many species and systems are already responding to climate change after only a 0.6C rise, it just heightens our concerns for the future,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s clear we have to adapt to climate change as well as try to mitigate it. It’s real and it’s happening now.”
In the UN’s view, adaptation undoubtedly requires world government to regulate energy and control the “crisis”.

The media add fuel to the flame of global warming hysteria by dutifully reporting every new species (preferably cuddly photogenic ones) reported by “experts” to now be threatened, thus allowing them to inexpensively recycle the same clips of glaciers calving icebergs into the ocean (as glaciers have done for millions of years), and highlighting the alarming “relevance” of the particular researchers’ conclusions. Meanwhile, the university, the funding agency and congress get to bask in reflected glory (the media covered it so it must be highly relevant!).


It is this newly formed iron triangle (reserachers/government/media) of grantsmanship, knee-jerk media coverage, federal research agency log-rolling and congress’s desire to seem “relevant” by addressing a “global crisis” that creates more and more “discoveries” of species threatened by climate change. This nexus creates a screeching, noisy feedback loop that is distorting science and corrupting the processes that insure research quality.In my view, it will take an august body like the National Academy of Science to step in to once again insulate science from politics. And even they might fail. We may be doomed, not by global warming, but by this iron triangle’s distortions and fear-mongering that attempt to stampede our fellow citizens into foolhardy policies intended to “correct” an unfounded “crisis”.