Why claiming that climate scientists are in it for the money is absurd

If you are reading the comments on basically any climate change related article, it won't take long to get to one (or more!) commenters boldly claiming that "climate scientists are only in it for the money". This will often be accompanied by outrageously high $ amounts to really get anybody's hackles up but without any real evidence for their statement.

This article is intended to be a repository listing resources you can use to counter this unsubstantiated claim whenever it crops up somewhere. Some are blog posts, some are videos while others come from social media postings.


One of the best explanations of why the claim is just absurd comes from Richard Alley in this interview snippet:

Many of the scientists interviewed for 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

Blog Posts

John Timmer in ArsTechnica (May 2012) - Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done

"One of the unfortunate memes that has made repeated appearances in the climate debate is that money isn't just influencing the public debate about science, but it's also influencing the science itself. The government, the argument goes, is paying scientists specifically to demonstrate that carbon dioxide is the major culprit in recent climate change, and the money available to do so is exploding.

Although the argument displays a profound misunderstanding of how science and science funding work, it's just not going away. Just this week, one of the sites where people congregate to criticize mainstream climate science once again repeated it, replete with the graph below. That graph originated in a 2009 report from a think tank called the Science & Public Policy Institute (notable for using the serially confused Christopher Monckton as a policy advisor).[...]"

Scott Mandia (March 2012) - Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I and Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part II

"[...]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?[...]"

John Timmer in ArsTechnica (February 2011) - If climate scientists are in it for the money, they’re doing it wrong

"[...] 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.[...]"

Social media

Katharine Hayhoe on her Facebook page (January 2017) - Link to public post

""Climate Change is a Hoax ....Big Money For Scientists to get Grants....Climate Change is Welfare for Scientists!!"

I receive messages like this on a regular basis. And when I point out that an earth scientist with a PhD would get a lot more money working for an oil company than a university, it's met with total incomprehension.

Why is it that people are so convinced all climate scientists are shoveling millions of dollars of government grant money into their Swiss bank accounts (and oil executives aren't shoveling billions into accounts in the Cayman Islands)?

Part of it might be because grants always seem to involve such enormous sums. And it's true, the biggest grant I was ever awarded was the stunning amount of $1.1M USD. Stunning, that is, until we break it down. Here goes!

I wrote the grant with 4 co-principal investigators from different universities. So we divided up the money about equally, giving each of us around $220,000. Still a nice amount.

The grant was for 4 years, which meant I had $55,500 to spend each year. Still nice, right?

Then the university takes 1/3 of that for "facilities & administration" costs. F&A doesn't cover the luxuries — my office has no window, I bought all my own furniture and computer — but it does give us internet, electricity, and an infernal amount of paperwork. That leaves $37,000 for me to spend each year.

With that money, I pay a graduate student the princely salary of about $25,000; I pay the university their tuition, which is around $10,000; and that leaves $2,000 left over each year. Year one, I buy the student a computer; year two, I pay for them to attend a scientific conference; and years 3 and 4, I pay for us to publish one scientific paper because yes, those cost about $2,000 as well.

BOOM - that's how a scientist spends $1.1M! Surprised?"

Other sources

One of my all-time favorites - and not mincing any words - is Ray Ladbury's comment on a Real Climate post from November 2009:

"[...]If you don’t know about or understand the evidence that shows incontrovertibly that we are warming the planet, you are IGNORANT. No sin here. You can rectify your ignorance by hard study.

If you refuse to put in the hard study, then you are WILFULLY IGNORANT and your opinion is worthless.

If you refuse even to look at the evidence even when it is shoved in front of your face and still insist you understand better than all the experts, then you are a DENIALIST.

Finally, if you insist that all the scientists are engaged in a global hoax to preserve their lucrative grants (which amount in salary to about what a mid-level IT administrator would make), then you are an IDIOT."

Update Sept. 7, 2018:

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

To link to this article you can use the short URL http://sks.to/absurd

Please feel free to suggest more links in the comments.

Posted by BaerbelW on Tuesday, 14 February, 2017

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