The Lippard Blog has an interesting analysis of Who are the climate change skeptics? In this he identifies links of many of the sceptics with several right wing think tanks like The Heartland Institute and George C. Marshal Institute. One could do a similar analysis of our local climate sceptics and deniers. Some of them seem to be linked with the right wing NZ Centre for Politcal Research, the ACT Party and Conservative Christian organisations and blogs. Have a look at the discussion New Zealand’s “CLIMATEGATE”! on the Centre for Political Research forum. Obviously conspiracy theorists tend to congregate in these areas.
Professional status of sceptics
But – enough of the political connections. What interested me about Lippard Blog’s analysis is the likely age and professional status of scientists who are climate sceptics compared with those working in climate science who are generally accepting of the IPCC conclusions. (He identifies the latter groups as the “IPCC scientists.”)
The analysis used data for 623 scientists involved in the Working Group 1 of the IPCC and for 469 scientists who were signatories of documents skeptical of anthropogenic global warming. The data included the number of citations for the 4th most cited paper for each scientist and the year their last degree was obtained. This gives us some idea of scientific standing, age and working/retired status.
I have plotted the data in the figure. Unsurprisingly the number of citations increased with time since last degree, or age. Scientific standing does increasing with time and experience (and numbers of publications).
But there is a huge difference between the two groups in the average date for last degree. I take from this that as a group climate sceptics tend be older and many more of them will actually be retired, compared with those who worked on the IPCC documents.
I am retired myself so I have often thought of the role that many retired scientists still play in scientific and political issues.
Some scientists like to remain active in their field on retirement. Some will continue to work without payment or retain academic positions – often for no payment. Great for their institutes – although I did hear of one lab which had been trying to diplomatically tell a still active long-term retiree that his shaking hands and poor eyesight had become a safety issue in the laboratory!
It’s also quite common for scientists to do a bit of consulting in their retirement. It brings in a bit of money, maintains some standing in the scientific community and often, to be frank, appeals to the vanity and self worth of the scientist. After all, one of the few negative features of retirement is reduced social contact and standing.
Problems with consultants
I see a problem with assuming retired scientists are always reliable sources of information, though. After all, it’s harder to keep up with the literature and to be aware of current findings – especially if one is no longer based in a working scientific institute. There is no longer the advantage of, and necessity for, peer review of one’s publications and public statements. Mind you, commercial and political interests may be more interested in the name and degree, the authority of the scientist, than the facts. Maybe a win-win situation for some. A presentation of an authoritative image by the retired scientist, without the need to maintain research and reading or bother about consulting colleagues. While the purchaser of the information gets a “tame’ expert with suitable endorsement of their product or political campaign.
Now I am not, by any means, claiming this is so in every case. Far from it. Simple retirement doesn’t necessarily lead to loss of integrity. Nor does institutional employment necessarily imply integrity. I have seen scoundrels in both situations.
However, the graph above does indicate that climate sceptics are more likely to be divorced from peer review, familiarity with the literature and current findings and the discipline of consulting colleagues. And maybe they can be influenced by commercial interests, or even just the fact that in the current political climate large numbers of people are willing to see them as authorities and uncritically accept and parrot their articles and statements.