Gordon Tullock on the debacle of climate science

Why have so many apparently reputable scientists endorsed “the climate caper”? The book of that name by Garth Paltridge provided some clues (scientists like to eat) and it helps to follow the money. But more is required to account for the extent of corruption that has infected parts of the scientific enterprise.

Gordon Tullock in The Organization of Inquiry (1966) helpfully provided an explanation in advance of the event. Karl Popper and Michael Polanyi inspired Tullock to write the book, and Popper himself provided a clue even earlier, in a 1945 paper, later published in The Poverty of Historicism. Popper proposed that some aspects of science should be explained in terms of institutions, traditions and the social context of science. In particular he suggested that scientific progress could be arrested by government control of the laboratories and journals, and by restrictions on free speech. Acute observers might have noticed some of that going on lately.

Under the influence of Popper, Tullock embarked on a project to explore the social organization of science and the way that scientists who he considered to be highly individualistic, nevertheless were highly coordinated. He was impressed by the way the formal and informal rules of science appeared to keep scientists honest and productive

The most effective way of ‘organizing’ science seems to be the most perfect laissez faire. This, however, is a superficial view. Science is not unorganized. There exists a community of scientists, and this community is a functioning social mechanism which co-ordinates the activity of its members.

Three kinds of curiosity

In addressing the issue of pure and applied research he identified two kinds of investigators, motivated by two different kinds of curiosity: one kind of curiosity drives the quest for truth and the other is directed towards solving practical problems. He described a third kind of curiosity, essentially a modern development – the “induced curiosity” of the nine to five scientist and also academics who are trapped on the publish or perish treadmill.

Investigators who are motivated by the first two kinds of curiosity are fully engaged with the real world, either to explain it or to make it work better but investigators in the third category may care about the real world but they do not need to if they can get away with it by publishing papers which do not advance knowledge or stand up to the test of practice. For him (sic)

Scientific concern with the real world is secondary to other matters. If he could establish and maintain his reputation, and hence his job, by reporting completely fictional discoveries, this would accomplish his end. The genuinely curious and the practical researchers have to get involved with real phenomena but “induced” investigators could simply ignore reality if there is not too much risk that they will be found out.

Tullock observed that managers of induced researchers may have difficulty in keeping the work in touch with the real world, especially if, like university administrators and public service bureaucrats, they are too busy or unqualified to even read the publications. Mostly they depend on the number of papers published in more or less respectable journals. He then sketched a scenario where the serious researchers are diluted by a massive influx of Kuhn’s “normal” (uncritical) scientists and the standards of the journal slip, so a self-perpetuating process might be set in motion to a point where “a journal read only be people motivated by induced curiosity gradually slipped away from reality in the direction of superficially impressive but actually easy research projects”.

Before the ranks of induced researchers were bloated by massive government funding the tendency to degeneration was kept under control by the serious and the applied scientists who would have protested if the contents of the journals were not helpful. He speculated about the kind of conditions that which could undermine the quality of the published work by “induced” investigators. One is a lack of practical applications for the research and another is the development of very complex methods of treating subjects which can be readily handled by simpler methods. He instanced calculus where simple arithmetic would suffice and topology instead of plane geometry. Technical sophistication trumps curiosity, imagination and criticism (including testing).

Political correctness: the end of the road

At the terminal stage of degeneration, Tullock described a situation where “there is a belief in the field that the function of the researcher is to uphold some particular point of view”.

When the point of view assumes a great deal of significance, simply presenting a rationalization for some position chosen on other grounds may be acceptable as an objective of research, and the principal criterion in judging journals may become their points of view. The concern with reality that unites the sciences, then, may be absent in this area, and the whole thing may be reduced to a pseudo-science like genetics in Lysenko’s Russia. Again, these symptoms may be found in some of the social sciences.

At the time that he wrote, in the 1960s, he thought that the traditional system of controls was still working in the natural sciences, if not in the social sciences. But times have changed and it appears that his worst case scenario has come to pass in large parts of the mainstream of government funded climate science.

More on Gordon Tullock, surely the most under-rewarded economist of recent times.

This entry was posted in Global warming and climate change policy, Oppressive government, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Gordon Tullock on the debacle of climate science

  1. Andrew

    I can see why scientists are so corrupt – it’s analogous to the Stalinist system of cooperate or die. (Metaphorically of course – so far – Lonborg is only black banned from almost every uni).

    The bit I can’t work out is why leftards are oblivious. The Kenyan pays NOAA to say the Pause didn’t exist. And then the Pause – acknowledged openly in meeja, publications, by the IPCC and even on Their ABC didn’t end – it NEVER existed! According to the Pausebuster dataset delivered months before COP21.

    And nobody has the slightest problem with that.

  2. Bruce of Newcastle

    Rafe – One thing you don’t touch on is something I call ‘save the world syndrome’. We scientists are prone to suffering from it (I certainly have done so at times) and it can range from merely wanting to do something hopefully useful for humankind to full on God-like world saving.

    You can guess which end of the spectrum that climateers sit.

    Now add two things. First is that capitalism is doctrinally anathema to the Left. Second is that global warming is supposed to fry us all. Now put those things together.

    Thus when you have a bright young Marxist thing she will be draw to environmental science because it serves the latter save-the-world reflex. But because she is a lefty she is also drawn to it because the generally accepted answers to global warming Armageddon are full government control of everything to save humans from themselves. So it lights up the former save-the-world reflex too. In this case she wants to save the world from evil companies, capitalism, the Koch Brothers and Tony Abbott.

    There are a lot of kids who think like this, so they tend to be drawn into those science fields in large numbers because they think it is desperately necessary to save the world.

    But no, it is just normal human megalomania since the data shows quite clearly that the world doesn’t need to be saved…but by the time you work this out you’ve just spent 3 yrs doing an environmental science degree, 4 yrs doing a PhD, you have two kids under 5 and a house mortgage.

    It is a wicked problem.

  3. braddles

    There is a huge production line of non-science that keeps many a scientist busy, which is not in itself strictly false; it’s merely rubbish. The bulk of material published related to climate science is along the lines “if the globe warms X degrees, then Y ( a really bad thing) could happen 50 or 100 years from now”. Not only is the premise faulty (X is just assumed as true, and its causes remain unexamined), but Y is effectively unfalsifiable (too far away), and anyway, they only said it ‘could’ happen.

  4. Nothing is going to stand in the way of the u.n.communist energy Tax ,the comrades are determined to Tithe us and introduce a fourth level of Taxation ,we will have government Taxes ,local ,state ,federal and world unelected government . As tge u.n.communists are unelected this sets precedence for the other three levels ,I mean if the u.n,communists dont stand fir election ,why should we? We will have Saint kevin of the ear wax ,as World President for Life ,and saint malcolm of goldman sachs as life President of Australia . Wonder what will happen to the semi literate perfesser of ejykayshun saint Jools of the slush fund ?

  5. Entropy

    Thus when you have a bright young Marxist thing she will be draw to environmental science because it serves the latter save-the-world reflex. But because she is a lefty she is also drawn to it because the generally accepted answers to global warming Armageddon are full government control of everything to save humans from themselves. So it lights up the former save-the-world reflex too. In this case she wants to save the world from evil companies, capitalism, the Koch Brothers and Tony Abbott

    That is quite so Bruce. On the other hand some poeple might be sceptics just because they don’t like the proposed solutions by the Proto Marxists. The gripping hand is that people must investigate it carefully for themselves, and look carefully at what the real world is doing and past climatology to decide for themselves.

  6. boyfromtottenham

    I can’t see any way out of this global mess other than via a huge economic crash (aka opportunity for radical change with minimal opposition) which erases so much wealth that politicians in many countries get a long-awaited awakening to reality – i.e. that a country’s wealth comes from the production of useful goods, that taxes should be difficult to avoid, as low as possible and used for essential services only, and that encouraging waste, inefficiency, sloth and corruption should be seriously punishable offences. What are the odds of such a crash? 100%. When will such a crash happen? I wish I knew, but I’m pretty sure that the global economy can’t levitate for ever on the back of crazy monetary policies such as NIRP/ZIRP, and crazy social policies such as Europe’s “open borders” in the face of millions of “refugees”. What are the odds that enough politicians wake up to reality after such a crash and behave sensibly? Pretty high,if they look like losing their seat, the perks of office and their cozy indexed pensions. Otherwise, they will bumble on like before, and we will suffer the consequences. Happy New Year everyone. ;-(

  7. Entropy

    Bradley’s, what I really hate is exactly that kind of pseudo science. Assume something is a given, what does that mean for cyclone,s bushfires et al. Then ignore any statistical analysis that might imply no significant difference to recent frequency of such things to push their barrow.

  8. jupes

    If he could establish and maintain his reputation, and hence his job, by reporting completely fictional discoveries, this would accomplish his end.

    So true. How many completely ridiculous claims are made about climate change?

  9. Isn’t it interesting that the group of people who tell us that science is a construct (and a patriarchal eurocentric one at that) and the group of people who tell us that the science is settled about climate change, are in fact pretty much the same people?

    He is right about the 9 to 5ers too. This is why I have argued in Quadrant about the need to reintroduce the concept of self funded research, and also against the creation of the so called Medical Research Future Fund.

    http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2012/10/taken-for-granted/

    https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2014/07-08/commonwealth-fund-medical-research/

  10. Rafe

    Actually i put in the bit about 9 to 5 researchers?

  11. Eyrie

    Boyfromtottenham, yes politicians may get sensible after the crash but I suspect they will be a completely new bunch. The first lot will be hanging from lampposts.

  12. Then YOU are right, rafe. Credit where it is due.

  13. Pete of Perth

    Added to the mix is that some people institutionalised in the academic realm believe they are smarter than the proles so how dare the proles question their pronouncements.

  14. JamesS

    boyfromtottenham

    Agreed. There is going to be a big reset and it will be more than just economic. Unfortunately to change human behaviour it usually involves a lot of pain. You can count on politicians of all stripes to sweep problems under the carpet and make a difficult problem worse, magnifying it.

  15. Rayvic

    Bruce of Newcastle: “One thing you don’t touch on is something I call ‘save the world syndrome’.”

    That syndrome covers the AGW brainwashing that is carried out virtually universally in schools and universities. Sadly, even Pope Francis has come under its spell.

  16. Simon

    I quite like the idea of good science and “crap science”. It’s got a sort of medieval feel to it.
    I guess it’s just a matter of money though. If every proposed study was expected to investigate thoroughly the alternate or opposite position simultaneously with equal veracity I reckon most scientists would be quietly pleased that they can retain their impartiality. Plus it doubles the money available and effectively removes “believers” from being distinguished members of the research community.

  17. Token

    At the time that he wrote, in the 1960s…

    That was when development meant a future WITH nuclear energy. How enlightened, eh?

  18. David Cutler

    One of the contributions to these developments was the idea that universities should be “relevant”. Who could disagree with that? This was followed by the idea that courses should be “vocational” (and therefore relevant). Traditional academics were unsuited to such a program (except for training other academics) so a new class of academics appeared with an appropriate background (not research). They soon discovered that to progress they needed things like PhDs and research programs. So they needed to invent something to research about (along with “invented” curiosity). A few small steps to where we are now.

  19. Dr Faustus

    He [Tulloch] speculated about the kind of conditions that which could undermine the quality of the published work by “induced” investigators. One is a lack of practical applications for the research and another is the development of very complex methods of treating subjects which can be readily handled by simpler methods.

    Technical sophistication trumps curiosity, imagination and criticism (including testing).

    Nicely nutshelled.

    Much of climate research is devoted to supporting the deeply falsified AGW hypothesis – or extending the conditions/conclusions of the hypothesis into other branches of science. It is a self-referential, closed circuit process based on increasing, untestable assumptions and highly uncertain principles.

    Everyone can play in that game.

  20. boyfromtottenham

    Thanks, Dr Faustus, nice comment. However, if “Everyone can play in that game.”, there is no obvious end to this ridiculous (and expensive) circus. Surely the critical question for (Tulloch and) us skeptics is “how can they who play the game be beaten”?

  21. Bruce of Newcastle

    a new class of academics appeared with an appropriate background (not research). They soon discovered that to progress they needed things like PhDs and research programs. So they needed to invent something to research about

    David – When I did chemistry in the 80’s this was already going on because of the exceptionally competitive nature of ARC funding. But CAGW hadn’t been invented yet, so the magic phrase was ‘possible cure for cancer’. The number of projects which had some remote linkage to a cancer cure was legion: every natural product characterisation, every synthesis method development, even one project I can recall which was on organogold superclusters. It was simply that the academics wanted to work on their ideas and they were just as adept at finding a link to some cancer aspect as they were at coming up with the idea in the first place. They are very intelligent people after all. They knew the selectors liked project ideas associated with cures for cancer.

    I suspect half of my old department are now working on stuff equally loosely related to climate change but I can’t be bothered to go look.

    As Philippa addressed earlier the root cause is the academic research funding model. That and the peer review and publish-or-perish models. As you could probably guess I was very pleased to escape from academia for the private sector, where I’ve been ever since.

  22. Dr Faustus

    …if “Everyone can play in that game.”, there is no obvious end to this ridiculous (and expensive) circus.

    Unfortunately you described the probable future at 2:53pm – probably with uncanny accuracy.

  23. Aynsley Kellow

    Bruce of Newcastle: ‘One thing you don’t touch on is something I call “save the world syndrome”.’ agreed. What I have called ‘noble cause corruption’ or ‘virtuous corruption.’

    Tullock misses this by focusing only on the material motives of scientists, but while most journals require statements of conflicts of material interests, none (to my knowledge) require statements of political preferences.

  24. Rohan

    All this brings up the very real likelihood that Captain Agility’s innovation package will be another $billion pa towards the climate change gravy train. Especially when the CSIRO is a key partner player.

  25. Mark S

    When the big man said ” The science is settled !” , the alarm bells rang . Big loud ones !
    It was THAT simple that it was WRONG !
    Just basic advertising strategy really . Present a threat and then a solution .
    The population doesn’t have to think , and the big man’s plan saved them .
    When Fervor is inversely proportional to facts it will lead to catastrophe .
    And THAT has been proven !

  26. nerblnob

    Back in the nineties when even we Evil Oil Industry types were convinced the game was over, because of Peak Oil rather more than Global Warming (Climate Change hadn’t been invented yet), I figured it was time to join the “alternative energy” (Renewables wasn’t such a popular term then either) industry.

    I was surprised and eventually depressed to find, time and time again, that the industries being promoted in the media were not even remotely near being sustainable after decades of state support and public goodwill, and it was made clear to me that the most valuable skill needed was the ability to write successful grant applications.

    Another twenty years later, and the media is still promoting the same lame duck technologies – wind, solar, tidal, the governments are still pumping trillions of public money into them, the Big Breakthrough is still just around the corner, and the proliferation of wind in particular is costing the public mightily in energy taxes, landscape desecration and grid damage.

    Meanwhile both supply and demand of oil has continued to increase so that we’re awash with the stuff.

    If activists were genuinely concerned about CO2, then they’d be agitating for more hydroelectric dams and nuclear power.

    Both take time and money. An even better fix in the meantime would be to upgrade existing coal power stations and use more gas. This would not only reduce Australia’s CO2 output but the world’s since it wouldn’t merely be moving industry overseas.

    However activists appear to be violently – literally in some cases – against anything involving hydrocarbons.

    This is the greatest sign of their insincerity.

    The other great sign is that the whole Green movement in Australia is against dams, since their roots are in opposing Tasmanian dams, yet includes hydroelectric power when trying to convince us that other countries have successfully moved to “renewables”. Otherwise the percentages would be truly pathetic.

    Shameless or just willfully ignorant?

  27. egg_

    Much of climate research is devoted to supporting the deeply falsified AGW hypothesis – or extending the conditions/conclusions of the hypothesis into other branches of science. It is a self-referential, closed circuit process based on increasing, untestable assumptions and highly uncertain principles.

    This fashion trend stemmed from ‘chaos theory’.

  28. David Cutler

    Bruce,

    “… so the magic phrase was ‘possible cure for cancer’ “.

    I remember it well. More or less every day in the SMH. It seemed to me fairly harmless (the science), keeping potentially dangerous people off the street. But when the war against cancer gave way to the war against climate I changed my mind. I accept that being lied to is something you have to live with but I drew the line at paying them to do it. So I stopped buying the SMH.

  29. cohenite

    Technical sophistication trumps curiosity, imagination and criticism (including testing).

    Not even that; alarmist papers and science is uniformly 3rd rate; examples abound; the hockeystick for example as the centrepiece of alarmism is based on proxy data from tree-rings or dendritic patterns in the trees. There is an accepted protocol for interpreting this information which makes the best of what is really a lot of guess work involving these patterns.

    When Michael Mann interpreted the data from another researcher, Tiljander, not only were BOTH the graph and the scale upside down but in they were in opposite directions. So while the data was flipped from down to up, the scale was flipped from up to down, reversing the true meaning of the data.

    I’ll put the second part up in another post since there is still a word limit apparently.

  30. cohenite

    Part 2: When Tiljander did the study on the varves (fossilised silt which was used to correlate with the tree rings), they were interpreted as :-

    Thin varve = warm temperatures
    Thick varve = cold temperatures

    When Mann used the Tiljander data, he changed the scale so it became:-

    Thin varves = cold temperatures
    Thick varves = warm temperatures

    This is equivalent to taking a thermometer and interpreting 100C = freezing and 0C = boiling. A nonsense interpretation of the physical properties of the data.

    He did this because, in modern times, the data was compromised by human activities which increased the amount of sediment in the lakes. This produced thick varves which, coincidentally, correlated well with temperature. Mann therefore seized on the correlation to make the assumption that thick varves must represent temperature. An assumption that he would have noticed was clearly incorrect if he had bothered to read the work done by Tiljander.

    After he had flipped the scale, he then flipped both the data and the scale so down became up. This didn’t correct the fact that the scale was wrong to begin with.

  31. cohenite

    Rayvic

    #1904674, posted on January 3, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Bruce of Newcastle: “One thing you don’t touch on is something I call ‘save the world syndrome’.”

    Noble cause corruption.

  32. James Gibson

    Fantastic article Rafe.

    The vast majority of Australian “scientists” in our universities produce absolutely nothing of worth, and this is solely because they are all reliant on government for funding and see their purpose as publishing articles, not advancing the frontiers of human knowledge.

Comments are closed.