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At a glance - Climate scientists would make more money in other careers

Posted on 3 October 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Climate scientists could make more money in other careers". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

Fact Myth CO2

At a glance

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!

Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
Are glaciers growing or retreating?
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin
The human fingerprint in global warming
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming
How do we know more CO2 is causing warming?
Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works
The tricks employed by the flawed OISM Petition Project to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change
Is extreme weather caused by global warming?
How substances in trace amounts can cause large effects
How much is sea level rising?
Is CO2 a pollutant?
Does cold weather disprove global warming?
Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?
How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions?
Climate scientists could make more money in other careers

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. My organisation funds a wide variety of scientists (including many related to sustainability & environment), so we cross check FTE rates carefully as people costs are often the largest prject expense.  I can confirm that scientists employed in the public arena (universities etc) are not that well paid - working for commercial and private organisations often pays a lot more. And working for fossil fuel, tobacco companies etc pays best of all (for obvious reasons). Ridiculous to think that climate scientists work just for money, especially given the constant hate mail and controversy that they receive.  

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  2. The statement that

    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.

    is highly misleading. Those who were educated as scientists simply would not qualify for other careers, except possibly in one-in-a-million exceptions where a rich uncle, for example, was willing to take him/her in and get them up-to-speed. Normally, they are simply told that they don't have the right background for the job.

    It is true that while employed, scientists can make a respectable but certainly not extravavent living. With the gross over-supply of scientists and enginners, however, their careers are always tenuous at best. I know because I have been there and have been in contact with others in the same boat.

    Now consider the fact that there is already well over $5 trillion (USD) invested in the climate change industry (ie. businesses whose success depends on the general belief in AGW). Put yourself in the shoes of one of the financiers investing that money. Would you tend to grant funds to scientists who speak unfavorably about the AGW theory, thereby jepardizing their clients investments? And, with the gross over-supply of qualified scientists, there will always be some willing to sing to the same sheet of music as the financiers. These are the scientists that we call successful, but are certainly not rich.  They do, however, keep their jobs (hopefully!), and are the ones that are polled in establishing consensus figures.

    From this relatively small pool of successful scientists, a few climb the ladder to prestigious positions such as scientific advisors to various political, entrepreneurial, and military celebrities.  These are the only scientists that come close to being "rich" by most peoples standards.

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL} User banned as yet another sock puppet.


  3. Interesting theory.

    From the chronological point of view, would it not be possible to observe the emergence of a consensus of research results before the accumulation of investments that resulted from that consensus? If that is the case (it assuredly is), does that not make it impossible for these investments to be the cause of the results, since effects can not precede cause?

    What is the source for that 5 trillion figure? This would correspond to a vast array of very diverse and numerous separate "industries" and interests, how do they coordinate their influence on those scientists anxious for their jobs? How can said scientists know where the money is coming from and ensure they say what is expected of them? Once a large number of studies from.many different sources all converge in one direction, is it still reasonable to assume that it is just the result of efforts to satisfy funding sources? How about studies coming from sources that have an interest against belief in AGW that also confirm these results?

    What are the criteria to declare that a business existence and success are dependent on "belief" in AGW?

    Is there a figure for the level of investment dependent on delaying energy transition policies?

    Not that I would engage in deflection but, to pursue the same logic, what level of public opinion manipulation can be expected from a single industry that generates hundreds of billions of profits (not talking about investments here, simply profits)?  Would it not be easier to coordinate an effort to manipulate when only a few very large interest groups are involved? 

    Just asking questions.

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  4. More questions:

    What sources report a gross over-supply of engineers and scientists, a term used twice in post #2 above?

    I have a little familiarity with the aerospace industry, where many scientists with physics and applied mathematics backgrounds can use their competence, even if they are not specifically trained as aerospace engineers. There is a serious shortage of talent in that field.

    I am also familiar with medicine and biomedical applications, where shortage of scientists and engineers are also a problem, easily confirmed by any basic search.

    Other sources report a serious shortage of hydrologists, a profession of very high interest for the future. 

    I'll add this article from the Bureau of labor Statistics. Of special interest is this quote: "A comprehensive literature review, in conjunction with employment statistics, newspaper articles, and our own interviews with company recruiters, reveals a significant heterogeneity in the STEM labor market: the academic sector is generally oversupplied, while the government sector and private industry have shortages in specific areas."

    So, once again, how does this constitute a "gross over-supply"?


    If anything, with the supply and demand law being what it is and the immense financial means available to private industries, it seems that this imbalance abundantly confirms that there is more money to be made for science majors in the private sector than in research, does it not?

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL] The bulk of the comment you are responding to has been deleted, being from a serial sock puppet.

  5. And one other note - if you narrow the climate funding to what is spent on climate research (ie where scientists work as opposed to money spent on adaptation, alternative energy etc), then the bulk of money goes on satellites and supercomputers. I'm pretty curious about the oversupply of scientists. Why is it so hard to get staff then?

    Financiers might be involved in adaptation, but governments fund research on the whole. Oil companies have plenty of smart scientists and resources (worked in petroleum research for years). If AGW is fraud, then surely they could spend $$ on research to demonstrate. They instead opted to spend money on disinformation - must better bang for buck. The problem being that their own scientists give them bad news.

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  6. Philippe @3 , @4  :

    Your very rational arguments are a real party-pooper.

    Moonwatcher builds a house of cards, and you go and pull away the supporting cards at the base.

    Another factor, beyond the mental horizon of perhaps half the population, is that a great many scientists are in the job of science because that  is what they are interested in doing.  Few of them would object to receiving the money attached to a Nobel Prize ~ but the Prize itself is the . . . er, prize . . . rather than the dollars (or krona).   And they would do the same job, even if the Nobel did not exist.

    Strangely enough, it is evident that most Actors, Artists, Authors . . . through the alphabet to Zoo-keepers, are primarily interested in the work they do  in their lives (rather than for a living ).     # As a frequent visitor to the WattsUpWithThat  blogsite, I find it notable that the overwhelming majority of commenters there seem to have their lives ruled by Dollars and Conspiracies (and worse).  They look at AGW, and all they can see is $$$ (or worse).

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  7. Should have guessed that level of cluelessness would be our persistent spammer. 

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