by Judith Curry
So, would you turn down a $44K grant to investigate the natural variability of drought in Nebraska?
CFACT has an article entitled A climate of fear, cash and correctitutde, with subtitle Trashing real science to protect grants, prestige, and desire to control energy, economy, lives. The article is rather over the top, but the main content of interest is excerpted below:
A few weeks ago, Nebraska lawmakers called for a wide-ranging study of “cyclical” climate change. Funded by the state, the $44,000 effort was to be limited to natural causes – not additional speculation about manmade effects. Amazingly, University of Nebraska scientists are not just refusing to participate in the study, unless it includes human influences. One climatologist at the university’s National Drought Mitigation Center actually said he would not be comfortable circulating a study proposal or asking other scientists to participate in it; in fact, he “would not send it out” to anyone. The director of the High Plains Climate Center sniffed, “If it’s only natural causes, we would not be interested.”
Their dismissive stance seems mystifying – until one examines climate change politics and financing. None of these Nebraska scientists seems reluctant to accept far larger sums for “research” that focuses solely on human causes; nor do professors at Penn State, Virginia, George Mason, or other academic or research institutions. They’re likewise not shy about connecting “dangerous manmade global warming” to dwindling frog populations, shrinking Italian pasta supplies, clownfish getting lost, cockroaches migrating, and scores of other remote to ridiculous assertions – if the claims bring in research grants.
American taxpayers alone are providing billions of dollars annually for such research, through the EPA and numerous other government agencies – and the colleges, universities and other institutions routinely take 40% or more off the top for “project management” and “overhead.” None of them wants to derail that gravy train, and all fear that accepting grants to study natural factors or climate cycles would imperil funding from sources that have ideological, political or crony corporatist reasons for making grants tied to manmade warming, renewable energy and related topics. Perhaps they would be tempted if the Nebraska legislators were offering $4 million or even $440,000. But a lousy $44,000?
Few scientists would say the Dust Bowl was caused by humans, even though poor farming practices clearly exacerbated it. Few would say cancer research should be limited to manmade chemicals, even though they may be responsible for some cancers.
Nebraskan (and other) researchers must end their hide-bound focus on human causes – and start working to understand all the complex, interrelated factors behind global climate changes and cycles. Government financiers and policy makers must do likewise. Our future well-being depends on it.
John Nielsen-Gammon has blogged on the CFACT article in a post entitled And Now, a Positive Voice on Climate Issues. Excerpts:
Because those three scientists took a stand for scientific honesty and integrity. And because CFACT, mistakenly assuming that any scientists who disagree with them are scoundrels and jerks, concluded they took their stand out of greed.
Let me tell you about these scientists. There’s Mark Svoboda. He’s been successful at obtaining research grants. He has to be. The University doesn’t provide him with any salary! Nonetheless, he’s become one of the world’s leading experts on droughts and how to deal with them through the National Drought Mitigation Center. Right now, he’s working on funded projects for drought detection, adaptive management during drought onset, drought monitoring, mapping drought, analyzing historical drought, and so forth. Drought in all its flavors. Not just natural drought. Not man-made drought. Drought, period.
There’s Martha Shulski. She’s director of the NOAA High Plains Regional Climate Center. Besides Center funding, which is provided by NOAA for climate data archival, access, and synthesis to fulfill regional data needs and decision-making, she’s working on funded projects for running Nebraska’s automated weather network, helping farmers irrigate more wisely, and helping farmers utilize information on climate variability and change. That’s climate variability AND change, not climate variability OR change. She once participated in a study called “What killed the reindeer of St. Matthew Island?” The answer: global warming? No. Overpopulation followed by a bitterly cold winter.
There’s Al Dutcher. He’s the Nebraska State Climatologist. He does for Nebraska what I try to do for Texas. He has a fully funded extension appointment from the state, so in almost 25 years he’s never written a grant proposal. His position on climate change leans strongly toward the skeptic side. He was quoted in the original news article as saying “I don’t want my name on something … and be used as a political pawn.”
Al told me: “I was attempting to point out … that I didn’t think it was appropriate to restrict what we could study (i.e. scientific integrity) and I would have taken the same position if Sen. Haar would have restricted the study to just human influences. The other not so subtle point I was trying to make is that politics is essentially ruining the academic sciences, especially for those that have yet to gain tenure. I refuse to be a hypocrite, no matter what side of the issue each member of the public tends to follow.”
The other two, by the way, didn’t feel entirely comfortable speaking on the record to me. I can understand why. You never know whether a politician might get upset at something you say and yank your funding.
Three climate scientists. All with different specialties. All trying in their own way to help officials and the public understand the whole climate. Not just some cyclical part, not just an anthropogenic part, but the whole climate.
Hey, CFACT, I have news for you: we climate scientists, at Nebraska and elsewhere, are already doing this. We refuse to be told by politicians to restrict the scope of our scientific investigations. Some of us feel so strongly about this that we are willing to pass up grant money that comes with politically-motivated restrictions. And we’re willing to do this even at the possible cost of having our reputations dragged through the mud by the likes of you.
Because, despite our best efforts, some of us get used as political pawns anyway.
Drought in Nebraska
Previous, multi-year droughts in Nebraska are summarized in a publication by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, titled Multiple Year Droughts in Nebraska, by Michael Hayes, Cody Knutson, Steven Hu. Historical and tree ring records back to 1200 show 21 periods of drought exceeding 5 years, with 3 such periods between 1900 and 1960. The ‘dustbowl’ drought lasted between 1931 and 1940. I found this figure to be informative:
So, what does the IPCC have to say about drought in the US high plains? From the IPCC SREX SPM:
There is medium confidence that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, e.g., in central North America and northwestern Australia.
Less frequent, less intense, or shorter in central North America? Lets take a look at section 3.5.1 from the IPCC SREX full report:
In North America, there is medium confidence that there has been an overall slight tendency toward less dryness (wetting trend with more soil moisture and runoff; Table 3-2), although analyses for some subregions also indicate tendencies toward increasing dryness. The most severe droughts in the 20th century have occurred in the 1930s and 1950s, where the 1930s Dust Bowl was most intense and the 1950s drought most persistent in the United States, while in Mexico the 1950s and late 1990s were the driest periods. Recent regional trends toward more severe drought conditions were identified over southern and western Canada, Alaska, and Mexico, with subregional exceptions.
The University Nebraska Lincoln has published a report Climate Change on the Prairie, with a Climate Impact Reporter, and Climate Change Projections and Possible Impacts. derived from climate models.
Ok, I’m mystified. The link to the legislative bill can be found [here]. Exactly what is the problem with Nebraska lawmakers wanting to support research from its state land-grant university to help them understand the natural variability of drought? Presumably they want to understand what the state might be facing over the next few decades in terms of drought. It is very difficult to make an argument that this variability over the next few decades will be dominated by AGW.
So, what is going on with Nebraska politics? From the Wikipedia, it is seen that Nebraska is solidly Republican, with Republican governor, senators, and representatives. Interestingly, Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. where the state legislature is nonpartisan, holding non-partisan elections to determine its members.
And what is going on with the University of Nebraska climate scientists? I don’t know any of the climate scientists mentioned here. I went to the web page for the Nebraska state climate office, and there is nothing there, says ‘website under construction. I went to the High Plains Regional Climate Center web page, it looks reasonable and seems to provide a lot of relevant information for agriculture, etc. With regards to climate change, they have a web page with a variety of links to published reports.
So why this conflict between the UNL climate scientists and the lawmakers? I really don’t get it, and neither CFACT’s or Nielsen-Gammon’s explanations make sense to me.
JC message to Nebraska lawmakers: I understand why you want to better understand and predict the natural variability of drought in Nebraska, such as seen in Figure 1 above. I have been studying climate variability in the high plains, specifically temperature and winds, for a DOE funded study on predicting wind power variability. For $44K, I would be happy to extend our study to include precipitation and drought, interpreting Nebraska climate variability in context of the stadium wave and including probabilistic projections of extremes for the next two decades. And I am sure that there are other researchers outside the state of Nebraska who would be willing to address this topic also.