Sunday, May 2, 2010

The billions and billions of funding...


The 7th Framework Research Programme of the European Union will launch its first call for project proposals soon, and this gives us an excuse to critically examine the 'billions and billions' of euros from the tax payer that go to fund climate research. 


The EU has traditionally set-up different funding schemes, but the most popular among researchers are the collaborative research projects targeted at specific areas of research defined by the European Commission itself. This projects are applied for by a team of research institutions from different European countries. Among these projects we find the 'big integrated European research projects' that supposedly European scientist are craving. It seems , however, that climate is not a big post in the  funding scheme. It is actually one of the smallest. The distribution of research funds was decided a few years ago already, so that the recent public developments surrounding CRU and the IPCC had no influence here. The EU will spend about 32 billion euros in funding collaborative research, of which just 1.8 billion will got to climate and environmental research. Almost 50% of the funding goes to Health and to Information Technologies. Some of the funding for Space Research could benefit climate research through satellite monitoring programs, but it is not very large either.

How does the funding of a typical large integrated research project in climate research funded by the EU ? The total amount would be of the order of 10 to 12 millions euros to be distributed among 20 to 40 institutions for a typical duration of 5 years. It is not difficult to estimate that this funding barely covers the salary of costs of one person for the duration of the project plus some travel, publication and computer costs.

Researchers do not actually have much control on the daily management of funds allocated to a project. Part of it are overhead costs that go directly to the management of the respective institution to pay for electricity, rents and administrative costs. Travel expenses fall under national regulations: if I happen to take a taxi from home to the train station for a cost of 10 euros, I will certainly get a phone call asking me to justify why I did not take the bus.

Of all the accusation directed to climate researchers, graft is in my opinion the wrongest. Egos, influence, power may indeed be involved, but money for sure does not play a role.



7 comments:

Shug Niggurath said...

Good post, I've never bought into the financial gain thing on this subject - not to say that they perhaps haven't managed to get better than average salaries, but that's a by-product.

Personally I think the real problem is their siege mentality and refusal to accept any critics viewpoints.

Where I get really angry is watching the politicians use it as a stick to beat us with - when clearly they don't believe a word either. And for that the scientists in the background let themselves become advocates, so for that they are culpable and I have no sympathy for the dicrediting that will eventually happen.

plazamoyua said...

I would say the argument goes more like "billions and billions" that go to fund climate research, due to alamrmism and fear. Such as more fear --> more money, as a problem of a bias temptation.

You might be right. And it is an interesting question. But I think the measure should be total money into climate science, with and without fear. Or the percentage of total science funding going into climate science, before and after Hansen 1988.

Werner Krauss said...

And all those graduate and post-doc students come to my mind who live from projects and permanently produce knowledge without great career prospects, right?

ghost said...

@eduardo

so, what do you think is different in your science than in for example economic research? Economists have also models that are nor really intuitive for laypersons, have a lot of political influence, and can cost us a lot of money (or save). But no deniers in prime time TV... strange.

@#1

sorry, IMHO, you are wrong. Actually, there are several dozens of papers which refer directly or indirectly to reasonable skeptic claims. You can look for works referring to Svenmark, Lindzen, Spencer, Douglass, etc. etc. Thus, you are totally wrong if you say: they refuse to accept any critics viewpoints. Many groups tested these hypothesis. They last two examples were Santer at al testing Lindzen/Choi and Foster et al commenting McLean/Carter/de Freitas. Furthermore, there were 3-4 papers testing Svenmarks Forebush-CosmicRay-Cloud idea. Furthermore, CRU as well as GISS included issues and bugs found from laypersons into there algorithms.

If you see a problem, that most skeptic results could not be verified than you have to show me the errors in the tests. Maybe you have a look to these sites: http://agwobserver.wordpress.com/ and www.skepticalscience.com.

Another nice source is google scholar. You can see there who cited a paper. You can find out if real skeptic claims are just shrugged off or not in the scientific community.

eduardo said...

@ Ghost,

Economics is not my field of expertise, although I am indeed interested and I try to read as much as I can about it. I do not agree with your view. Take for example the public debate that took place after the financial crises about what would would be the best actions governments should take. There were a plethora of proposals by the most respected economist, ranging from nationalizing the whole banking sector to a governmental pledge to buy shares at a certain price in 5 years time. So you do have 'econmic deniers' very often in prime time. The difference in my view is that in economics there is no consensus view that raise the claim to be the 'truth' , there are many theories that have competed and compete to be offer the right solutions.
In the case of climate, we had for many years a theory that was deemed to be the truth, supported by a consensus of all scientists. Any critical view to that official truth was deemed as sinister. When it emerges that perhaps bits of that theory, as small and unimportant as you may wish, were not that solid the whole edifice appears to be shaken.
Those think-thanks and blogs you cite might be or not well-intentioned. Who said that human life is populated mainly by angels ? Probably some are not, but some are critical from a more healthy perspective. I do not think that you can place them all in the same bag

Gunnar Strandell said...

Good point eduardo!
Perhaps it turns the argument the other way around: Lack of resources has hindered a broad research effort and the struggle for funding has narrowed the scope and formed a small community protecting their field.
Funds have gone to more pheripheral areas like wildlife studies and glaciology that has been riding the waves of climate change. Not to mention the NGO:s.
I think more research and less politics, is the cure.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Eduardo,
I agree with much of what you say (in the post and the comments) but would like to differentiate between the EU and the US. Maybe someone can dig out the exact figures but there is a clear difference in levels of funding for research. The US alsways had far higher investment in climate science compared to Europe.

Several commentators claim this is the common least denominator in a contested area, where both sides agree that more research will solve the problem in the future. Thus Al Gore and Pres. Bush could agree on this point and the scienctific community benefitted. Don't get me wrong: this is not supposed to say they were motivated by the money earnings, but the research field kept growing. And there are careers to be made in climate science.

However, within the EC/EU the decision to take political action was made in the early 1990s without investing more and more in climate research. Again, we would need to look into the numbers, but if the money went into zero carbon technologies and policies of adaptation, this might not be so bad after all.