We’ve certainly seen our share of bubbles created by government interventions. The housing-market collapse triggered the worst financial meltdown in decades, and we’re still feeding that bubble in hopes of containing the damage. The Obama administration created a short-lived auto bubble with its Cash for Clunkers program that ended up targeting vehicles already on the lots from last year and eroding demand for new production. Now Bret Stephens writes at the Wall Street Journal that the scandal known as Climategate may pop bubbles in both Academia and the artificially-created “green economy”:
Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he’d been awarded in the 1990s.
Why did the money pour in so quickly? Because the climate alarm kept ringing so loudly: The louder the alarm, the greater the sums. And who better to ring it than people like Mr. Jones, one of its likeliest beneficiaries?
Thus, the European Commission’s most recent appropriation for climate research comes to nearly $3 billion, and that’s not counting funds from the EU’s member governments. In the U.S., the House intends to spend $1.3 billion on NASA’s climate efforts, $400 million on NOAA’s, and another $300 million for the National Science Foundation. The states also have a piece of the action, with California—apparently not feeling bankrupt enough—devoting $600 million to their own climate initiative. In Australia, alarmists have their own Department of Climate Change at their funding disposal.
And all this is only a fraction of the $94 billion that HSBC Bank estimates has been spent globally this year on what it calls “green stimulus”—largely ethanol and other alternative energy schemes—of the kind from which Al Gore and his partners at Kleiner Perkins hope to profit handsomely.
Supply, as we know, creates its own demand. So for every additional billion in government-funded grants (or the tens of millions supplied by foundations like the Pew Charitable Trusts), universities, research institutes, advocacy groups and their various spin-offs and dependents have emerged from the woodwork to receive them.
This has been one of the credibility issues with the AGW movement from the beginning, although one built into government grants for research in general. Government grants create a market for research, which universities and other institutions create supply to meet, as Stephens rightfully notes. That gives government a great deal of power to distort academic markets, if you think of them in those terms — and a massive incentive for the providers to endorse the reasoning behind the supply. After all, concluding that an issue is negligible or nonexistent means the end of such grants.
But researchers have ethics and a sense of responsibility as scientists, some will argue in return. That may be true in many or even most fields, but the e-mails exposed at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit — one of the premier institutions pushing the anthropogenic global-warming theory — show that the AGW field was not among them. The e-mails repeatedly discuss ways to hide bad and contradictory data and ways to attack other scientists arguing against their conclusions. The charitable conclusion to draw from this is that they believe in AGW so much that they became high priests instead of researchers; the less charitable conclusion was that they didn’t want the gravy train to end. Either or both, they stopped doing science a long time ago.
With the discarding of the raw data by East Anglia CRU, the pretense at science has ended. The cash incentives for reaching those conclusions should end as well. If AGW is real, then let the scientists build a transparent and complete data set for all to review openly that proves it, instead of only publishing subsets of “adjustments” and destroying the raw data. Science welcomes critical review; corrupted advocates shrink from it and conspire to block it. While some may argue over the benefits and problems with government funding of the former, no one can argue that the latter deserves a red cent of public money to encourage it. Hopefully, Stephens’ optimistic assessment of the end of the AGW bubble will be borne out, but that will take a discipline with public money that this administration and Congress have yet to demonstrate on any level.
Update: Every once in a while I’ll write a headline, and later wonder what the heck I was thinking. That’s the way the cookie, er, pops, I guess. Bubbles don’t crumble, obviously.