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.