Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Scientists are creating a scare to get grant money"
Part of the: Common Arguments by Skeptics and Deniers series

A common argument among skeptics/deniers is that scientists fabricate scares just to raise grant funding. If this were true then one would expect scientists to be, on average, a very deceitful and greedy bunch. So lets analyze a few scientists and see exactly what kind of people we are dealing with. The method I used to choose the following scientists was simple. They are the last three scientists that acquired a million dollars and made it to the front page of Digg news service.

Our first stop is a NASA scientist that ended up with $20 million in royalties from inventing the super soaker water gun:



Notice how he spent his money on more research and "returned to his roots". He could have spent his money on a giant house, traveled the world, and spent his money on materialistic things but it would appear this is not the case. Granted he did start his own science oriented business so one could make the argument that he is simply trying to earn more money. On the other hand one could certainly argue that there are more lucrative and less labor intensive ways of earning money than the hardcore physical sciences and he is simply following his heart. I will refrain from making an absolute judgment on this individual.

Next up is Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor at George Mason University in Fairfax. He won a $1 million dollar prize for developing a life saving technology to remove arsenic from water.

http://img441.imageshack.us/img441/1695/070202hassambcol1psmallgx1.jpg

How does he plan to spend the cool million? From MSNBC:

Hussam said he plans to use 70 percent of his prize so the filters can be distributed to needy communities. He said 25 percent will be used for more research, and 5 percent will be donated to GMU.
This suddenly "rich scientist" spent his entire million dollar prize on helping others and furthering research. Could you say you would do the same?

Then there is the even more extreme example of Grigory "Grisha" Perelman who turned down the Fields medal and a million dollar Clay Mathematics Institute prize only to co-exist with his mother on a $74 a month pension.

http://img407.imageshack.us/img407/1932/perelmanlb4.jpg

It seems from this small sample set that many top academic/federally funded scientists simply are not driven by money and many will freely give it away if they happen to stumble upon it. At least two of these three scientists are at the self actualization stage of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Although these are only anecdotes they go a long way in showing that many top scientists are generally far more altruistic or knowledge loving than the 'grant money scamming Nazis' many politicians and climate change skeptics/deniers such as Senator Inhofe label them as. If these scientists were to claim global warming was a 'no-brainer' would Senator Inhofe be able to label them as scam artists?

More counterarguments against the "grant scam" can be found here. Readers, if you know of other stories please post.

Source:
MSNBC, $1 million prize awarded for water purifier, Bangladesh-born professor devised simple method for removing arsenic
The Sydney Morning Herald, Maths genius living in poverty, Nadejda Lobastova and Michael Hirst in St Petersburg, Russia August 21, 2006
Digg
Clay Mathematics Institute, Millennium Problems

26 comments:

John F said...

Well, I'll tell you Wacki, I think the argument that scientists formulate scares for the money is just plain stupid. Your examples are telling. Also telling is that this argument never cropped up until people decided it was economically necessary to sew doubt about climate change. What were all the money grubbing scientists doing before that?

Also, the money argument would mean that *all* scientists are money grubbers, out to scare people to get grant money. So where are the attacks on the chemists and biologists and physicists for *their* evil and greedy scare tactics? Any of them could trump up scary scenarios for the money. Where are the attacks on the astronomers for scaring us with stories of asteroids heading our way? I mean, they're just saying that for the money, right? Hmmm...

J. S. - (Wacki) said...

Well it's a good enough argument for MIT's Richard Lindzen (linky) and all the "experts" in The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary. :-p

gotta love the power of denial

John F said...

I would guess either Lindzen knows that bit of propaganda will be believed by a lot of people who won't bother to think it through, or that he's the one in it for the money. Any info on whether he's still being funded by big oil?

John F said...

Well, there's something on the question I asked here:

http://www.alternet.org/envirohealth/50494/

J. S. - (Wacki) said...

John F,

I honestly don't know. All I know is that he writes articles for, gives lectures/speeches to, and attends meetings held by think tanks funded by big oil. Either way we won't know unless the courts order big oil and the think tanks to open their books like they did with tobacco. Tim Ball claims he doesn't get any money from big oil but he is without a doubt on CEI's payroll. The money gets filtered through the think tanks.

The whole money issue is a dangerous gamble though. Some people have strong political beliefs that they simply can't let go. In all honesty the more I think about it the more I'm amazed that less than 1% of the scientists have been corrupted either by money or blinded by political beliefs to the point of denying the consensus. Considering how many mental diseases there are out there (depression, alcoholism, senility, OCD, etc) I'm surprised more haven't jumped on the bandwagon of accepting handouts.

J. S. - (Wacki) said...

btw, that is an interesting link John. I'm going to have to look into his self contradictions a little more. I've been extremely pressed for time lately though. So I can't promise anything soon but I will update Lindzen's bio.

DanJ said...

Perhaps a more telling fact is that most scientists conduct research from little or no grant funding. The success rate of obtaining funding is low, but the research often continues, on a shoestring. Where is the payoff for scientists? New knowledge. I suppose the deniers feel that working to gain new knowledge, rather than simply denying it all in the hope of driving investment values even higher, is a bad thing.

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