Lawrence Krauss — Science, Non-Science and Nonsense — From Government to the Classroom

By Fabiana Kubke 23/03/2010

Lawrence Krauss has been making his rounds through New Zealand, giving two talks in Dunedin (wonderfully covered by David Winter on the atavism), and last night one in Auckland, which I managed to attend. Krauss provided the audience with an entertaining and thought-provoking lecture on science communication and the role of science in society.

I think that in this day and age very few would challenge the important role that science plays in economic development, nor whether science should be the foundation of sound policy making. Yet even though the PEW surveys showed that the US public has a good basic knowledge of science facts, it also showed that understanding of more complex issues is less prevalent. Scientists would probably not be surprised by the PEW results: there are many more than just a handful of scientists that consider that the public is not well informed.

Why should we care?

Krauss argued that democracies depend on both well informed legislatures as well as well informed electorates. And further,  that since science sits behind almost all important issues of government, being informed about science issues is something we should seriously care about. After all a well informed electorate is the last line of defense against policy makers that may cherry pick out of the science pool for evidence in favour or against issues depending on their prevailing agendas. But how do we get informed?

Is science coverage in the media flawed?

I would argue that, to a certain extent, it is. And there may be many reasons for this. According to Krauss, one problem is, that when scientific consensus has a direct impact on a political issue, science journalists are not given the space on the political pages where their stories should be placed, and that political reporters do not have sufficient or adequate understanding of the scientific issues to cover them well. Further, many of the stories covered in the traditional media are based on press releases of ‘novel findings’. While I encourage this, there is an underlying flaw in this kind of reporting. Although by the time that a finding is published it has gone through a tedious process of peer-review that attempts to ensure the quality of the published data, publication does not amount to consensus by the scientific community. A single finding may be interesting, but many times it is just that. It may stimulate our imaginations and fill us with awe, wonder, and even hope, but should not, by itself, be the basis of a fundamental change in policy or behaviour.

Only one side to a science story

Journalists expect to have two sides to a story. And while that may be all very well for many areas, in science, in the end, only one side is right. And for science being ‘right’ means having consensus in the scientific community. Krauss argued that part of the problem is that journalists would easily find someone with a PhD after their name willing to provide ‘another side of the story’, and in doing so, create the impression of controversy where none exists. And this, Krauss says, is part of the problem.

Nonsense and sense

’I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out’ [Arthur Hays Sulzberger, New York Times editor 1935-1961]

There is nothing wrong with having an open mind. There is nothing wrong with looking at alternatives (and science is built around doing this). But, like Krauss, I would argue that the definition of open-mindedness is forcing our beliefs to conform to reality, and not the other way around.

But separating nonsense from sense is becoming increasingly difficult. While the internet makes it easier to get information, it also makes it easier to get disinformation. As Krauss says, if we do not have a filter, then we are in trouble: instead of overcoming ignorance, we validate it. And as he highlighted, while the first amendment of the US constitution protects against religion, it does not protect against bad science.

Fundamentally, science is not a story. It is more than that. It is what we fall back on when we choose to cure diseases, enhance our agricultural practices, turn on a light at home. It is that which describes the world we live in and allows us to build a more comfortable world for ourselves.

Krauss said science is a gift to human culture: just like art and literature, science enriches our understanding of ourselves. And that search for understanding is what makes us, well, human.

0 Responses to “Lawrence Krauss — Science, Non-Science and Nonsense — From Government to the Classroom”

  • “And for science being ‘right’ means having consensus in the scientific community”

    This is completely & absolutely wrong. To quote michael cricton “If it’s consensus it isn’t science”. No discovery is ever the “consensus” position before it is made. To quote einstein on being told that 100 german scientists had signed a letter saying he was wrong “It takes onlly one, with evidence”

    Science proceeds by producing evidence. Politics, religion & snake oil salesmen proceed base their positions on saying everybody agrees with them & anybody who doesn’t is a heretic.

    In fact the “scientific consensus” claim is a carefully built fraud. When I asked 10s of thousands of people to name 2 scientists who support catastrophic warming & aren’t paid by government only 2 attempted to do so. They both named only 1 person, Professor Lovelock, who has since sided with the sceptics.

  • thanks, neilcraig for your comments. I understand what you are saying, and I don’t think I totally disagree with you. That is partly why I put ‘right’ between colons and qualified ‘consensus’ as ‘consensus by the scientific community’ (not necessarily the general consensus outside the scientific community, which I agree is not always correct). You are right, science progresses by producing evidence, and you don’t get consensus from the scientific community until there is substantial evidence pointing strongly in one direction and away from any other. Having said that, I think that a common misconception is that ‘right’ is the same as ‘certain’. Which in science it mostly isn’t.

  • Thanks for the link and the flattery Fabiana! Sounds like this was similar to his first talk in Dunedin, hope I didn’t spoil it for you.


    You are, of course, right that science works on evidence. But eventually we get to a point at which so much evidence supports and idea that we accept it and move on to asking more interesting questions. I work in evolutionary biology and, as you might imagine, we’ve been playing these game for while. The scientific community agreed that evolution was a fact more or less as soon as Darwin published The Origin and natural selection hasn’t been seriously contested as the theory behind evolution for about 100 years. Yet almost every paper in the country about the “evolution debate” when Richard Dawkins turned up. It’s kind of frustrating when a scientific consensus on a controversial topic is not reflected in the public discussion on that topic. That’s why it’s important to understand that basic facts surrounding climate change are supported by the vast majority of scientists working in the field.

    You’re challenge about finding non-government funded climatologists is kind of a red herring. Science is largely funded by governments.

  • The argument that “if it’s consensus, it’s not science” is simplistic and just plain wrong. Yes, science is all about pushing the boundaries of knowledge and creative thought, but that all occurs on the foundations of what has come before and is agreed upon based on the evidence, i.e. a scientific consensus.
    Could you please define what you mean by “paid for by the government”? Does that include those scientists employed in education? I think you will find that the vast majority of scientists (both within the climate change field and beyond) accept climate change is occurring and is anthropogenic.
    Also could you please cite your source for claiming that Lovelock is now sceptical of climate change? It was only late last year that his views were that he expected a catastrophic effect on humanity.

  • Since 31,000+ scientists have signed the oregon Petition saying catastrophic warming isn’t true & it has been impossible to find 2 scientists not paid by government, who say it is, the claim to the existence of a “scientific consensus” is clearly merely advertising hype.

    David most scientists do not work for government. If virtually nobody in the majority supports a hypothesis it clearly cannot form a consensus so my question, which you felt unable to answer, is clearly essential. Your redefinition of the consensus from “scientists” to “scientists working in the field” (by which you clearly mean people employed by government to promote the theory) would also require you to acknowledge astrology, homeopathy & “creation science” as scientific disciplines since most, indeed probably all, “scientists” making a living in these fields claim to believe they are true. On that I disagree with you.

    If catastrophic warming is science it is testable – a show of hands is irrelevent. Can anybody produce any actual evidence it is happening?

  • “Paid for by the government” includes all those paid for by the government. If government is promoting warming alarmism, as it clearly is, there is an obvious conflict of interest for anybody paid by them.

    I stand by the opinion that something which is decided by show of hands rather than the scientific principle of testability isn’t science.

    Here is Lovelock, at the Royal Society, saying that the sceptics had kept science “sane” which he clearly sees as a good thing.

  • Neilcraig

    Could you stop and look at the arguments you are using for a moment? First you claim that science isn’t consensus then you use the Oregon petition (which has been falsely promoted by its authors to imply consensus) as a reference point.
    I’ve researched the Oregon consensus – first it’s definition of “scientist” means that it is 31,000 out of a total pool of >2.65 million American scientists (i.e. around 1%).
    In a 2008 survey of NZ scientists and technologists 70% accept that climate change is happening and anthropogenic, 10% don’t while 20% remain non commital. These are scientists from all fields. I work in tertiary education, and I can quite safely say the majority of my colleagues – chemists, biologists,microbiologists etc are convinced that the climate change is happening and anthropogenic. None of us have received funding for climate change research.
    You have asserted that most scientists do not work for the government but you have not provided your criteria for “not working for the government”. Could you please provide a definition so we can understand who you class as working for the government and who is not?
    Also over a decade ago most governments we actively resisting the idea of climate change – so how does this fit with your argument against climate change?
    Lovelock saying that the sceptics had kept the science sane does not mean he agrees with them. Reading the link you supplied it still has him predicted a temperature rise and that “we should have more respect for uncertainties and learn to live with possibilities rather than striving for the 95% probabilities that climate scientists have been trying to provide. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know if we can avert disaster — although we should try.” This hardly supports the skeptical view. Homeopaths have their uses in that they have forced chemists to vigorously explain chemistry – this hardly means that we accept their version of “science”.
    As for evidence, what more do you want? Carbon dioxide absorbing heat, and the greenhouse effect have been demonstrated in the lab and by observation many times. Changes in glaciers and ice caps, global temperatures show, overall, warming. And please don’t try cherry picking the few examples where there has been cooling, such instances are to be expected with a complex system such as climate – however the overall effect is still warming.

  • Ignoring a bell in my head ringing the word “troll”, it’s meant to be a consensus of data that matters, not a consensus of people. It’s mostly these daft websites and the main-stream media that keep promoting the consensus of people silliness. The point about the consensus of scientists (the people not the data) is if the same data is looked at from different points of view or expertise (hence different scientists) and still points to the same conclusion, the conclusion is more likely to be robust. It’s got nothing to do with the head-count per se.

    You might note this has just been posted by Orac:

    (It also elaborates on that Crichton quote.)

    I wrote recently about the data mattering, following up on something Lawrence Krauss said to others after his lecture:

  • Mike having “researched” Oregon you will be able to link to exactly where in the petition it claims warming scepticism is the “consensus”. Certainly you must be able to do so if anything you say is to be treated in any way seriously.

    Otherwise you will wish to apologise for making such a stupid assertion. I await with interest.

    As to your 70% makes a consensus poll – for only 70% to say climate change is happening seems remarkably low since everybody agrees climate does change & always has, for example the Medieval warming was warmer than now & no sceptic denies this, though a few alarmists still may. If you can show me a poll where 90% of scientists say catastrophic anthropogenic warming (CAGW) is provably happening now I would be impressed. I doubt if you could get 10% to sign that but that is what the self styled “consensus” claims.

    The definition I have already provided is “not paid by government” – whether they are all working is a different matter.

    As for evidence of catastrophic warming what I want is some actual evidence that global temperature is, in fact, warming catastrophically. If you’ve got some – showing that the recent downturn isn’t actually happening I’m sure the IPCC would be very grateful. I assume, not being hypocritical, you do indeed also believe in creationism & astrology as well as homeopathy because they all have theories & what could you want in the way of evidence than the existence of a theory. I, on the other hand, incline to traditional scientific processes.

    Grant I will be polite enough to ignore the alarm in my head saying corrupt, lying, parasitical, fascist, fearmongering, state propagandist so we are both being polite. I entirely agrer that data not headcount is the important thing. However data that springs full blown from the heads of Jones & mann is valueless. I trust you will agree with me that anybody refusing to make data public because others might ttry to find something wrong with it has no claim to being a scientist & that such “data” are worthless. I await your agreement with interest.

  • craig,
    I apologise for not making my point clearer. When you used the Oregon petition as a reference it seemed to me that the point you were trying to make is that if there are 31,000 scientists who disagree with the climate change “consensus” then it is not a consensus. However, as this amounts to less than 2% of the pool of scientists who could have completed this petition I would suggest that the Oregon petition is not worth bringing up. It just seems very strange that for someone who disagrees with the whole idea of consensus in science that you would bring up a petition which is dealing exactly with that – numbers of scientists that hold a particular view.
    Your point about the 70% is taken, but at what point do we define the term consensus? 75%, 90%?
    My view is that 70% “for” with 10% “against” seems quite persuasive to me, but for others it may not be so much.
    You have not sufficiently defined what you mean by not paid by government in such a way as to justify your earlier comment that “most scientists do not work for the government”. If you could explain this further it would be helpful. For example, in which category do you include scientists at IRL, AgResearch, New Zealand universities and polytechnics? If you do include these and government employees then I don’t know where the “most scientists” that you are talking about work.
    As to the warming, I think the term catastrophic warming is inappropriate – a slight warming of a few degrees has a reasonable probability of resulting in catastrophic effects – this is in the IPCC report as is the evidence supporting this. There is no recent downturn in temperature globally, only selectively which is again down to the complex nature of climate.
    Your “assumption” regarding my beliefs on creationism etc, is an interesting extrapolation based on very little data, which doesn’t really sit well with your claim of adhering to traditional scientific processes. Or was it just a cheap shot? Personally I think insults have no place on this site – which is about science and reason. Though admittedly you’re not the only one to use insults. The first line in the final paragraph of your last post does seem to exceed most of the insults I have seen on this site and says a lot more about you than it does about Grant (though I wouldn’t want to extrapolate too much).

  • Given the penchant on this site to try and be correct in our terminology I would suggest that the phrase “consensus of data” is incorrect. Though it did make me smile thinking of all the data sitting around have a chat and coming to an agreement.

  • drmike,

    consensus of data

    For ‘of’ in this phrase, read ‘based on’. I presume you knew that was my intention 😉

    To further confuse things, data can have noise, be confounded by associations, etc., so it’s often the summaries that people use in practice, rather than the raw data. (This wasn’t the meaning I was referring to, but it’s a related issue.)

    As an aside, in bioinformatics we actually use consensuses of data, for example in consensus sequences (a “summary sequence”, if you will, representing the conserved features of a collection of sequences). Other fields will use equivalent things no doubt to present what items are consistently present in a collection of data.

  • neilcraig – you claim: “When I asked 10s of thousands of people to name 2 scientists who support catastrophic warming & aren’t paid by government only 2 attempted to do so. “

    That’s quite an effort. When did you do this research? Who funded it? Have you published the data?

    I think you are living in cloud cuckoo land (as indicated by your use terms like “corrupt, lying, parasitical, fascist, fearmongering, state propagandist “. You have used those and similar terms against commenters here previously).

    “If government is promoting warming alarmism, as it clearly is, there is an obvious conflict of interest for anybody paid by them.” – You have things wrong by 190 degrees.

    Government’s employ specialists to advise them on problems like these. The IPCC was set up to advise governments.

    Scientists are employed because they can do this job. Clearly politicians, magcianhs and theologians couldn’t. (From your tone I don’t think any government would think you capable of rational advise either)

    The IPCC conclusions are based on extensive reviews of the scientific literature. They don’t come out of individuals minds.

  • neilcraig,

    However data that springs full blown from the heads of Jones & mann is valueless.

    This isn’t my subject, so you’ll have to find someone else to argue that with, but others say it’s not their (Jones & Mann) data to start with and that the data is also aggregated by several other sources who apparently all come to the essentially same conclusions. You might want to consider the first two points Michael Schlesinger (whose subject it is) makes here for example:

    I trust you will agree with me that anybody refusing to make data public because others might try to find something wrong with it has no claim to being a scientist & that such “data” are worthless.

    Show that’s happened first… it’s not my thing, but others say that’s not the reason the data was not made public.

  • Mike i note you have not apologised for claiming the Oregon petition had claimed to be a consensus. You clearly know this claim to be wholly untrue & I wish to give you yet another chance to apolgise for making it.

    Since Oregon has never claimed to be a consensus your 2% criticism is clearly unjustified. However taking your own figures & standards for alarmism to even represent 50% of scientists (far short of a consensus) you would have to have access to a petition of 775,000 scientists supporting it. Pardon me if you consider me to be insulting you by suggesting you are a hyopcrit & I may be wrong but I suspect you cannot produce such evidecne & yet have never publicly denounced the alleged consensus.

    Not paid by government means they do not receive their pay, directly or otherwise, from government. Such a concept requires real effort not understand.

    If warming is beneficial rather than catastrophic, asc the Medieval warming was, then there is no case for spending trillions trying to prevent it. It seems you are agreeing with me that there is no credible chance of catastrophic warming. That must end the debate.

    Your support of creationism etc is not an extrapolation from a different case but an equal application of what you have proclaimed as your core beliefs about science. If you were telling the truth, as I asumed, there is no possibility of you not holding supportive beliefs about creationism.

    Ken Amazingly enough it is possible to ask questions without government funding.

    I note your contention that the IPCC is a wholly non-political scientific body who only ever use peer reviewed evidence & accept it as the highest standard of honesty to which you ever aspire. It is of course a total & deliberate lie. The IPCC are politically appointed & their claim that the Himalayan glaciers are all going to melt, leaving half the world’s population in drought, by 2035 was not peer reviewed or indeedc in any remote way close to truthful. I ask you to either apologise for saying that or produce your own peer reviewed evidence that it is going to melt.

    Grant – That Prof Jones did this & boasted of it is shown by him saying “Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
    I accept you don’t understand the subject but trust you do understand scientific principles well enough to be able to say that Prof Jones has thereby proven he is not doing science.

  • neilcraig,

    I wrote earlier: “you’ll have to find someone else to argue [that] with”

    People who, I would say deliberately in your case, quote out of context and misconstrue and tease in order to try “create” and argument (aka trolling) are a waste of my time.

    You can try with others, e.g. show the full context of you latest quote, e.g. why these people asked for the data, what their intentions were, their previous history of how they treated Prof. Jones and so on. It’s been well pointed out elsewhere that the full context shows this is nothing like what you present, but others can confirm that: I’m not interested.

    That you end every comment with a tease speaks “troll” very loudly.

  • Regarding the apology – I stated that the Oregon petition falsely implied consensus. While “imply” does not quite equate to “claim” as you have referred to it, I think it would have been better for me to have said that the Oregon petition falsely implies that significant numbers of scientists disagreed with anthropogenic climate change. This is where the 2% fits in.
    If that merits an apology, then I apologise for my poor choice of words.
    My own figures based on the New Zealand survey have a 70% vs 10%, and I have already stated that while I find this quite persuasive others might not.
    You previously claimed that “most scientists do not work for the government.” It is still not clear to me how this can be true. Could you please help me understand this by confirming whether or not you count the following scientists and government employed – university lecturers, polytechnic lecturers, IRL, ESR, Cancer Research, Liggins Institute, Canesis and AgResearch scientists? Your avoidance of clarifying this point suggests to me you may have realised that you have overstated this point of your argument. If so, it is no big thing to apologise (you seem to be very focused on other people apologising for what you perceive as their errors, so I assume you would do the same if you make a mistake). In order to gain a better understanding of each others point of view it is important to own up to one’s errors in order to make progress.
    I guess if you choose not to explain what you meant, your purpose for being here becomes a lot clearer.

  • I accept your apology.

    Mike as regards the most scientists work for the government I in turn will backtrack very slightly. I do remember having read some figures showing that but cannot trace them. However this shows almost half of scientists working for industry. The largest group other are in education & if all of those are government paid then adding the official government total just over half would be government paid. I suspect a small but significant part of the education workers will be working for non-governmental sources. However it doesn’t much matter if non-government paid people are just above or just below 50% when it has proven impossible to find more than 1 of them, worldwide, in the “consensus”. Either way the “consensus” claim is bogus.

    Grant for somebody who said, in your previous attack on me that you didn’t know the subject to criticise me for “trolling” is clearly disingenuous. You did imply that if I could show where Jones had deliberately refused to make data available you would acept that was unscientific. Your refusal to now do so is symptomatic of the basic dishonesty & contempt for scientific values so often found among alarmists. Since you don’t even attempt to contribute any facts your absence will not be missed..

  • Consensus appears to be quite a loaded term as no one has defined what level of agreement it encompasses, 75%, 90%, 99%?
    Still the statistics in New Zealand and overseas show a majority of scientists/technologists agree that anthropogenic global warming is occurring. The vast majority of scientific organisations have also stated that anthropogenic global warming is occurring.
    Regarding your statment that you “asked 10s of thousands of people to name 2 scientists who support catastrophic warming & aren’t paid by government only 2 attempted to do so” I’m curious as to how you managed to ask so many people. I work in the educations sector and the majority of my university and polytechnic colleagues agree with me that the evidence strongly suggest anthropogenic climate change is occurring. Similarly the friends I have at organisations such as IRL and cancer research also agree. Even if you regard most of us as “government employed” we still are very much able express our own opinions. There is an old saying that trying to get scientists moving in the same direction is like trying to herd cats. have worked with scientists for the past 20 years I am quite confident that they, as a collective and as individuals would not tolerate being told what to think or say, if the evidence does not agree.
    I’m guessing that you count the scientists at NIWA as being “government employed”? Because these are New Zealand’s experts with regards to climate change.

  • You did imply […]

    I asked that you direct it to others. (I wrote that other sources show your quote does not show Jones to be dishonest, but that you can confirm that others and as I not interested.)

    To repeat myself, a third time now, please find someone else to argue with. I have no interest in “conversing” with someone who caricatures others as dishonest, “refusing”, etc., in what seems to me to be an attempt to stir up an argument.

    Excuse my seeing you as a troll, but it is how your comments come across to me.

  • Mike if you actually have statistics showing the majority of NZ scientists support catastrophic warming then you should have had absolutely no difficulty naming several independent ones who so so. Unaccountably you have, several times now, resisted the temptation to prove your case.

    Grant i note that you are repeating your assurance that you will not again participate in this discussion. I accept your word – it clearly needs no other response.

  • Neil – your response to my question on your fanciful claim (“When I asked 10s of thousands of people to name 2 scientists who support catastrophic warming & aren’t paid by government only 2 attempted to do so. “) – was to refer to the similar hysterical statement made on your own web site!! So much for your attitude towards evidence. You have done no such research, at all, have you? And you are obviously in the habit of confidently making similar wold and unsupported claims.

    It’s a silly claim and it’s a silly postulation. And highly politicised (“catastrophic” indeed!).

    Consider – which scientists are most likely to disagree with the IPCC’s summaries of current scientific understanding on climate change? Why those working in the energy/mining sectors. They often work for private companies. (And these companies often support and finance climate change denier activists.

    Consider – which scientists largely agree with the main findings of the IPCC (That global temperature is increasing and that human effects are most probably responsible in recent years)? Why climate scientists. They are most familiar with the work and least likely to have commercial interests one way or the other. Furthermore, many if not most of them have been asked by their governments to work on/research/investigate climate issues.

    And your “paid by the government” is similarly silly and loose. In New Zealand most scientists work for universities or Crown Research Institutes (CRIs). Some of the finance (by no means all) comes from taxation. It’s not tied to scientific outcomes. It is targeted at areas considered important to research.

    Our CRIs get a huge proportion of funding from the private sector. Many private clients are funding specific projects on climate change issues related to their industries or companies.

    In the end, whether the client is government, state or private/commercial they pay us to do good science. Doing bad science would be counterproductive – quickly leading to removal of funding.

    Neil, you might like to see the world differently. Maybe you have a political or commercial agenda. But you really are out of touch if you believe your own propaganda.

  • your assurance that you will not again participate in this discussion

    No, I wrote (a) asking you to argue with someone else (and despite that you came back to me) and (b) that I am not interesting in “conversing” with people who take the approach you do. Others can contribute to the discussion here and I am quite happen to converse with them.

  • drmike,

    Personally, I prefer a “level of agreement” expressed in terms of statistical confidence estimates in the forecasts and so on, i.e. focused on the data. Stuff about numbers of people, etc., seems to be exploited by some people to try create a controversy that apparently isn’t supported by the data. It’s one reason I pointed to the NYT article a while back, as the quote it is based around is focused on the data.

  • Neilcraig
    The NZ survey I have talked about can be found at:
    You still have not told me who you count as “independent scientists” despite the fact I have given you specific examples to response to such as scientists working at Universities, Polytechnics, AgResearch, ESR, MoRST, Canesis. Happily the survey outlines how many NZ scientists belong to each sector so you should have no problem specifying which scientists you believe are “independent”.
    How could I supply names when you have not defined whose views you will accept?

  • This is the 3rd time od explaining that “scientists not paid by government” means scientists whose pay does not come from government. Your claim not to be able to understand that does not reflect well on anything you else you claim.

    I note that nobody else has been able to name even 2 independent scientists who support catastrophic warming which proves my point.

  • I fail to see why you cannot simly state whether you consider scientists at the following places as independent or not – MoRST, FoRST, ESR, IRL, universities, polytechnics. When one of my students does not understand a question I ask, I rephrase it until the understand exactly what I mean. If you are unwilling to do the same, so be it. Or perhaps you are an overseas poster and do not understand out scientific structure?
    You have already named one scientist yourself – Jame Lovelock. Although he has made disparaging remarks regarding how some climate researchers have behaved, if you read the article you referred to earlier it still indicates that he believes that climate change is occurring and that there is a strong possibility that it could be catastrophic. This is reinforced by the following article as well.

  • I am indeed from overseas this being my blog . It is possible there are some universities somewhere in the world which are not funded by govenment & some professors at some of the others who are wholly funded from industry so drawing such absolute classifications is unwise. It is well known that the sceptical community is drawn heavily from emeritus professors who, while still technicallly part of uiniversities, are no longer competing for grant money.

    That being the case the only useful criteria is whether the speaker gets money which government can cut off if he gets out of line. By comparison recent investigation of German science during the 1930s shows that there were no specific laws passed requiring that “Jewish science” be removed from the carriculum it is just that almost everybody knew it would be unwelcome & those who didn’t stopped getting grants.

  • Neil – you are not the only one to note “It is well known that the sceptical community is drawn heavily from emeritus professors “. I have commented on this in Beware the retired scientist? using data from The Lippard Blog (Who are the climate change skeptics?).

    I think there is a big problem with retired scientists who become spokespersons for causes like climate change denial. They can very much be financed by commercial or political sources. They are very susceptible to ego flattering. And they are usually out of touch with the science.

  • a) a lot of NZ’s scientists don’t work in universities but in various research institutes and for private companies.
    b) it’s one thing for emeritus professors to end up as spokesmen for this & that (although I’d like to see the actual data :-)); it’s another to say that they dominate the ranks of the sceptics organisations…

  • Ken, having collated the emeritus professors who support scepticism & having suggested that that they are mostly paid by “political sources” I trust that

    1) You will now actually produce some evidence for such extensive financing coming at least close to matching the multi-billions government has given to alarmists. Obviously you could not make the allegation without evidence if you possessed the remotest trace of integrity so you must such evidence.

    2) Provide links here to where you have made similar attacks on those alarmists in reeeipt of the aforementioned billions.

    3) Where, having implied that sceptical scientists must be motivated by money, you have publicly disagreed with the various alarmistts who have said that money beiing available, in vast amounts, to alarmists, does not imply that they might be similarly suborned.

    Personally I doubt if any sceptic has made money out of it & that they have thus demonstrated a true commitment to science while being attacked by corrupt lying thieving parasites, sometimes dishonestly posing as scientists, but if that does not apply to you you must certainly be able to supply the evidence to back up your accusation.

  • Alison, have a look at my links above. There is data on this – particularly indicating the age., time since graduation, and it does stand out when you start looking at the spokespeope and their propaganda. Sometimes they even list deceased amongst their advisors.

    Being retired myself I have experienced the offer of consultancy provided I was able to provide an authoriatative support for a product. My response is to stare that whatever my opinon of a particular product my prime resposibility is to the facts. That is where I would place any authority I have.

    Strangely, the consultancy offers usually go away after that.

    Subjectively I can also understand the ego and desire for attention a retired scientists may have which woukd make them susceptible to Neil’s outlook.