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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Climate scientists would make more money in other careers

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

Climate scientists could make far more money in other careers - most notably, working for the oil industry.

Climate Myth...

Climate scientists are in it for the money

In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left-wing foundations. And while the energy industry funds both sides of the climate debate, the government/foundation monies go only toward research that advances the warming regulatory agenda. With a clear public-policy outcome in mind, the government/foundation gravy train is a much greater threat to scientific integrity.

-Henry Payne, National Review


Some branches of science potter along on their own, under the radar. That's because their progress, important as it is, does not have wide-reaching socio-economic consequences. The only arguments you might find between those working in them will be encountered if you go to their conferences or read their publications.

Not so climate science! It has joined a list of scientific topics that one can file under, "Political Footballs". Such politicisation of climate science happened primarily due to a perceived threat to corporate profits. This perception germinated in the 1980s and early 1990s, when it looked as if serious progress might happen in order to tackle the threat of climate change.

Over the years and decades that followed, opposition to climate science became more organised. It involved two key components. Firstly there was the tangled web of corporations, political think-tanks and their public relations associates. These bodies generated, tested and circulated the messages designed to cast doubt on climate science. Secondly there were those politicians and members of the public who bought into and willingly repeated the messages to anyone who would listen.

Once climate science had become politicised, climate scientists became exposed to all sorts of attacks. These included the claim that climate scientists are only in it for the grant-money, implying that scientific research grants represent a financial windfall that the rest of us can only dream of. So let's now dig down into that claim.

Research budgets can be large, huge even, but that does not mean that a scientist can go off and buy a luxury yacht once the grant is awarded. Everything has to be accounted for. Science is expensive to do - very expensive in some cases. A research budget has to cover staff - investigators, field and lab assistants. It has to cover instruments and analyses. It may have to cover the logistics and expenses incurred on data-collecting expeditions. And every dollar of that expenditure has to be set out in detail in the grant application if it is to stand a chance of being accepted. Scientific funding takes place in a highly competitive environment.

In terms of salary, a typical mid-career research scientist works hard for around the same take-home pay to a mid-level IT administrator. There are many much easier ways for an intelligent and literate person to make money. If money was the motive, they'd be in another career. Oil and gas, for example. Most scientists instead do what they do because of its vocational nature. They are motivated to further question the world they live in and its physical properties. In that way, our understanding of the world around us is constantly improving and that's to the ultimate benefit of every single one of us.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

Many media articles on climate change have a 'discussion' below them where members of the public have their say. A lot of the 'points' made in such environments are simply repetitions of the highly-aired denialist talking-points that are covered by our Climate Myths database. Among them is the popular one, "climate scientists are only in it for the money". This will often be accompanied by claims of outrageously large amounts of dollars (or pounds or whatever) to really get hackles up but without any real evidence for their statement.

In a video as part of her Global Weirding series with PBS, leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe comprehensively debunks this myth, explaining what happens when you are awarded a $1 million grant. Well worth a look if you still don't believe us!


Many of the scientists interviewed for our online course, Denial101x, also explain why they do what they do and it doesn't have anything to do with money (big surprise!). All those expert interviews are available in the Wakelet-collection Denial101x Expert Interviews.

John Timmer also tackled this myth at ArsTechnica in 2011 and 2012:

So, are there big bucks to be had in climate science? Since it doesn't have a lot of commercial appeal, most of the people working in the area, and the vast majority of those publishing the scientific literature, work in academic departments or at government agencies. Penn State, home of noted climatologists Richard Alley and Michael Mann, has a strong geosciences department and, conveniently, makes the department's salary information available. It's easy to check, and find that the average tenured professor earned about $120,000 last year, and a new hire a bit less than $70,000.

As did Scott Mandia on his blog:

Are scientists getting rich from grant funding? I will use myself as a case study in this post and, in Part II, I will write about others’ experiences.
I recall a lecture I gave on climate change back in April 2009. After I was finished, a gentleman told me that he though[sic] the whole thing was a hoax so that we scientists could get rich from funding. Before I even had a chance to reply, a voice from the crowd (my wife) yelled out, “Trust me, I can tell you, he isn’t making any money from this. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing!” The truth hurts, doesn’t it?:

Mandia goes on to give a detailed example

"I am currently listed as a co-investigator (co-I) on a NASA grant proposal that is to be submitted this month. The principal investigator (PI) is a colleague of mine who I will call Prof. X and the grant budget is requesting $437,232.67 over a three year period. Funding from the proposal will be used to create a learning institute to educate secondary education teachers about climate change. These teachers will be trained to use climate data from NASA in order to incorporate the latest climate change science and data into their curricula. Essentially, NASA will be using some of its funds so that our children will become more informed.
Assuming the grant is approved, it would be easy for somebody doing a cursory scan of NASA grants to shout out that “Prof. X received a grant for $437,232. He is getting rich from research funding! No wonder he claims that humans are causing global warming. He is in it for the money!” Sound familiar? It is often the case where a climate scientist receives a large grant and then there are cries of outrage from those that have no idea of how the money gets spent.
Here is how the $437,232,67 from my grant will be spent over three years:
  1. Participant/Trainee Support Costs = $152,678.50 (135 teachers will participate over three years)
  2. Consulting Services = $4000 (To assess the curricula developed)
  3. Indirect Costs: $76,064.25 (Administrative fees and other fees that are not collected by those named on the grant)
  4. Direct Labor = $204,489.92
$204,489.92 is what the investigators on the grant are paid over three years. There are six (6) of us working on this grant. Three of us, including the PI, will receive the majority of that amount. I will receive $48,264.75 over three years ($16,088.25 per year). The PI will receive $49,175.31 over three years.

Imagine that! What appeared to be a grant for Prof. X for $437,232.67 really nets him $16,391.77 per year.

Finally, we’ll leave you with this explanation by Prof. Richard Alley who explained just how absurd this whole claim is during an interview at the AGU Fall Meeting in 2015:

Last updated on 23 September 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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James Hansen & money

James Hansen is second only to Al Gore as far as personal attacks go. A latest attack accuses him of receiving up to $720,000 from the Open Society Institute. Here is James Hansen's reply


Karin Kirk Yale Climate Comm.

Karin Kirk tackled this myth in an article for Yale Climate Communication on Sept. 5, 2018:

Climate change science comeback strategies: 'In it for the money'

It comes with two cartoons drawn by John Cook:

Cranky Uncles Money 01

Cranky Uncle Money 02


Comments 1 to 13:

  1. The denier myth begins with...

    In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left-wing foundations.

    In truth, climate-research is conducted by scientists throughout the world who are not being paid by either the US government or US foundations.  

  2. Thank you for posting!!

    Scientists are important for our world. Because of climate change that we made it happen. Many countries tried to solve this problem. The government gave the budget for science companies to research. Causes somebody to think that climate scientists are in it for the money. In my opinion, science project and research need money and time. Money that government gave could be running out easily. Some country didn't support science field so much. Sometimes it made people don't want to be scientists because science work is very tough work and the scientist isn't high salary career. So I think scientists aren't in it for the money.

  3. Thank you for posting!!

    Scientists are important for our world. Because of climate change that we made it happen. Many countries tried to solve this problem. The government gave the budget for science companies to research. Causes somebody to think that climate scientists are in it for the money. In my opinion, science project and research need money and time. Money that government gave could be running out easily. Some country didn't support science field so much. Sometimes it made people don't want to be scientists because science work is very tough work and the scientist isn't high salary career. So I think scientists aren't in it for the money.

    What would make science project become more famous? 

  4. Wow, thank you for posting this wonderful article. For me, scientists are playing really important roles. Without them, how can we know what is going on in this world. Especially about climate change which we should concern the most. If be a scientist is that easy and rich, it is going to have a billion of scientists out there! It is a really hard job. I appreciate all of them a lot. Thank you for hard working! Anyway, I still have a question;

    Do scientist need to belong to a company? 

  5. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Climate change science comeback strategies: 'In it for the money' by Karin Kirk, Yale Climate Communications, Sep 5, 2018 

  6. Hello, this is my first post, as I just discovered this site. Great work, thanks.

    I frequent some online investor fora where I encounter a lot of right wingers (some of the extreme fringe). Their mainline attack on climate scientists is more sophisticated (and fundamental) than "they're in it for the money" (as in, to get "rich"). The general lines of attack go more like "the groupthink in the climate science community is such that: 1) only pro AGW theory proponents will even fund climate research, 2) the only way to get any funding (whether it makes you "rich" or not) is to be an AGW theory proponent, and 3) of course the peer reviewers are going to support anything that bolsters the AGW theory and attack anything that doesn't.

  7. AFT, these claims are popular among people sharing a certain ideology. They amount to slightly more than conspiracy theory but not much, and they do not hold up to scrutiny. Virtually nobody arguing that way ever spends the time and effort necessary to determine how much reality underlies these claims.

    1) A large amount of research comes from NASA, and it continues to point in the same direction. Another body of research is from the military, i.e. Navy and Air Force. It shows the same as the rest of the evidence, some of it was very early on. Repeated attempts at silencing scientists or suppressing their work have been reported during the Bush administration, it has reached rdiculous proportions under Trump, so the problem is actually the other way around: anti AGW (whatever that may mean) actors actively try to silence researchers and do not fund research because they know that it will show the opposite of what they want to see. The BEST project was a shining example, look it up. Exxon did fund research and it showed the same thing as the research from other sources (see appropriate thread); it is not very surprising that they stopped funding it now, is it? Why would these actors continue to fund research that they know will show exactly the opposite of what their financial interests demand? How much have they actually funded, then suppressed, because it did not serve their interests?

    2) The only way to get funding should be to propose quality research that advances knowledge. That is the case for the vast majority of it. Denial motivated research in virtually all the publicized cases ends up of such poor quality that it generates questions on the review process that allowed it through. Multiple cases have been shown to be the results of intentional, organized peer-review hijacking, or the publicity was owed to gross misrepresentation of results, or press releases advertised conclusions that were not supported by the paper. A while ago, it was the infamous Soon-Baliunas, Legates, and a few others are there for your examination. The stream has dried up somewhat lately. Prominent denial voices (Spencer) still can not come up with research that truly supports their publicly voiced opinions.

    3) Exactly why would that be? Reviewers are often anonymous, what interest do they have to allow poor quality papers? Scientists tend to try to undermine each other's work far more than people realize. There is seldom better satisfaction than proving a competitor wrong.

    These arguments are neve accompanied by specifics. They simply don't hold up. Those who want to be convinced by them simply assume that they are true because it make sense to them, flatters their already held beliefs, and they never bother digging or just exploring the logic of it, as for the first argument. The real problem is this: nobody has a real financial incentive in climate science being correct, including scientists themselves. The effort that societies will have to produce to deal with it, whether they try to mitigate, remediate, or any combination will be enormous. Ask any any climate scientist if they wish climate science was wrong and see what their answer are.

  8. I feel like scientists in every field are important to us. Scientists are vital to the globe since they assist individuals in comprehending how the world operates in very particular ways. Humans have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to stay alive and happy, and science has proven to be an useful tool for doing so, even if it doesn't always make us happy. Science is a certain perspective on the environment. It's a mode of thinking, a means of organizing what we know in order to better comprehend how things work. I also think there aren't much people choosing the environmental science field because of the "they are doing it for money" reason and also there aren't much people paying much close attention to their result/studies. 

  9. Please note: a new basic version of this rebuttal was published on September 23 and includes an "at a glance“ section at the top. To learn more about these updates and how you can help with evaluating their effectiveness, please check out the accompanying blog post @

  10. In the opening statement of this Climate Myth, it is claimed that climate scientists could make far more money in other careers, and I believe it is time they did just that.  According to Climate Myth 69 which states

    That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.

    it seems that the climate scientists have completed their work and there is no longer any need for their research positions.  At this point, people are either convinced of AGW or they are not.  If they are not convinced, as is the case with most common folks, it's highly unlikely that more science is going to change them.

    In my case, I was a US defense scientist with a Ph.D. in physics when the "End of the Cold War" (or "Outbreak of Peace") terminated my career after just eight years.  I was simply told that there was no longer a need for the service I was providing since the former East Block countries promised to behave themselves from now on. 

    Well, I sure hope the climate scientists have much better luck than I did in finding a new career if their current one vanishes.  Whenever I tried to break into anything new, I was always beat out by those with more experience.

    At any rate, there is little more the climate scientists can do to get people converted over to carbon-free energy.  Instead, what would be needed is a global Gestapo to enforce the no-carbon provisions on folks regardless of the harm they cause, and I know of no nation that would go for that.


    [BL] The return of another sock puppet.


  11. WasAScientist @10 :

          "That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with a high certainty & confirmed by observations."

    Dang right !

          "it seems that the climate scientists have completed their work and there is no longer any need for their research positions."

    Well mebbe so . . . mebbe taint so.   Us common folks would sure kinda like a whole lot more idea of zactly how fast this here global warming is gurn on.   Could be mighty useful in our plans.   Could make a helluva big difference, I reckon.

    And cos some of them fancy elites is still a-saying there's no problem in sight and we all should kinda relax and do nuthing . . . well, we'd like a good bit more confirmation about all that, for or agin.   If'n that's okay with y'all.

  12. Eclectic @11

    Well, look at it this way.  If we did away with those climate science positions, it may actually clear the way to support development of clean energy much better than those wind turbines that are dangerous, expensive, damaging to the land on which they are installed, and a real menace to the aviary population.  Also, manufacturing those solar cells involves NF3 gas which has a greenhouse effect about 17000 times as strong as CO2.  Furthermore, none of these sources are adequate for heavy industry.

    You might also be interested to know that while I was in graduate school, I chose a major field of study in plasma physics and hoped for a career in controlled thermo-nuclear fusion research.  That, of course, never happened.  But maybe more progress can now be made in this field if we redirect some of these climate change funds.


    [BL] Look at it this way: your repeated violations of our Comments Policy grew tired a long, long time ago.

  13. WasAScientist @12 ,

    Might be an idea to look at the opportunity costs.

    Back of envelope ~ what would the budget be for 10,000 climate scientists, in grants/salaries and support costs?   (And possibly they're not all working exclusively on climate-related matters?)

    How many birds are killed by wind turbines versus killed by pet cats or by impact with buildings?  The answer may horrify bird-lovers.

    What proportion of AGW is caused by NF3 ?      >0.1% ?

    Has the USA budget for pet food & care exceeded $100Billion p.a. ?

    Opportunity costs, and resource allocation . . . 

    A few years back, I heard a panel discussion by a group of various experts ~ their conclusion was that the world could largely eliminate most of the major world problems by the intelligent spending of . . .

    . . . wait for it . . .

    . . . about 10% of the world's annual military budget.



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