Amerikanische Wissenschaftsorganisationen und Fachblatt Nature sehen Hexenjagd auf Klimaskeptiker als Bedrohung der wissenschaftlichen Freiheit

In den USA fand vor kurzem eine regelrechte Hexenjagd auf Klimaskeptiker statt. Obwohl die IPCC-Seite traditionell mit Milliarden von Forschungsgeldern in der Geldrangliste unaufholbar vorne liegt, wollte man die magere Förderung der Klimarealisten ins Mark treffen und am besten endlich vollends austrocknen. Am Fall Willie Soon stellte man eine undeklarierte Förderung dar. Dass es auf der IPCC-Seite leider genau das gleiche Probem gibt, verschwieg man jedoch. Roger Pielke Jr. beschrieb in seinem Blog einen krassen Fall, in dem ein IPCC-nahes Paper aus dem Jahr 2010 ohne Förderungserklärung veröffentlicht wurde, obwohl eine ganze Reihe von Coautoren signifikante finanzielle Zuwendungen aus der Erneuerbaren Energie-Branche und politischen Lobbygruppen bezogen hatten.

Judith Curry führte in ihrem Blog weitere IPCC-nahe Forscher auf, die es wohl versäumt haben, den Erhalt von grünen Forschungsgeldern in Veröffentlichungen zu deklarieren. Sterling Burnett vom Heartland Institut fasste dies am 3. März 2015 wie folgt zusammen:

Activists’ Funding Goes Unquestioned
On her blog, Climate etc., climatologist Judith Curry responded to Grijalva’s letter, arguing if Congress and the press are truly concerned whether funding taints climate research, they should also be asking about funding from large environmental foundations and lobbying groups pushing for government action. Curry asked, “Are we not to be concerned by funding from green advocacy groups and scientists serving on the Boards of green advocacy groups?” Among the potential conflicts of interest not under scrutiny by the media or congressional Democrats are those of Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, who has written a number of peer-reviewed papers and testified before Congress on multiple occasions. He previously served as chief scientist for, and is still a science advisor to, the multimillion-dollar lobbying group Environmental Defense. Joe Romm, author of several books on climate change, has also testified on several occasions before Congress concerning global warming. Romm is a senior fellow and chief science advisor at the Center for American Progress, which argues for greater government control over the economy. Neither Romm nor his coauthors filed conflict-of-interest disclosures for their article in Environmental Research Letters, although the journal explicitly requires it, stating, “All authors and co-authors are required to disclose any potential conflict of interest when submitting their article (e.g. employment, consulting fees, research contracts, stock ownership, patent licenses, honoraria, advisory affiliations, etc.). This information should be included in an acknowledgments section at the end of the manuscript (before the references section). All sources of financial support for the project must also be disclosed in the acknowledgments section.”

Der Geologe Robert Carter wies in einem Artikel auf am 3. März 2015 darauf hin, dass es stets um die inhaltliche Korrektheit wissenschaftlicher Arbeit gehen muss, unabhängig von der Quelle der Forschungsförderung:

How does a scientist engender a conflict of interest anyway?

The notion of “conflict of interest” declarations is a relatively new phenomenon for scientific publications, especially in solar and climate physics. Though a well understood and applicable procedure in political or financial matters, it is far from clear that declarations of interest have any part to play in the physical sciences. In physical science, the scientific method itself ensures the accuracy, applicability, and usefulness of results.

The contrary suggestion is that if the money used to fund research comes from a source that can be identified with a publicly expressed a point of view on the matter under investigation, then a scientist’s conclusions must be suspect. The idea is nonsensical for it completely ignores both the strengths and the whole point of the scientific method.

Science is different from politics or commerce in that who pays for a piece of research – whether it should be Genghis Khan or Mother Teresa – is simply irrelevant to making judgments about the validity of the research product, which stands or falls depending upon its consistency with the facts and the ability of other scientists to independently confirm the result.

The idea of such conflicts of interest is not only scientifically invalid but also not fruitful, because to argue thus effectively implies that virtually all scientists must then have a conflict of interest all the time. The only exceptions might be scientists with ample private means who are working unpaid, but even they are likely to be living off the interest of past investments that relied on government or non-governmental funding.

Without gainsaying what is written above, knowing that a grant will be awarded or renewed dependent upon a researcher reaching a certain finding by manipulating data can of course be corrupting and lead to scientific fraud. Recent articles suggest that the hyper-competitive nature of much modern research is leading to an increase in such fraud (see, for example, frequent editorials in the journal Nature for regular commentary on this debate). However, to my knowledge no substantive evidence exists that the relatively recent practice of requiring scientists to sign conflict of interest declarations has acted to reduce genuinely fraudulent research.

Many scientists choose to pursue research projects that they judge are likely to be published in leading journals, in some cases in the hope of attracting continuing research funding from sources that have a partial or prejudiced view of the topic in question. But to the degree that this is a problem, it exists regardless of the source of funding, meaning that disclosure of funding sources does not provide a remedy.

For example, under the present U.S. administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has made clear that it wishes to embrace the most alarmist voices in the global warming debate, even to the point of trying to silence scientists within its ranks who dissent from the alarmist view (e.g., Dr. Alan Carlin). Similarly, some private corporations and foundations may also make their positions clear, though they are usually less likely to publically support just one side of a matter that has significant political implications. Receiving funding from either of two sides to a public debate is not a conflict of interest in any meaningful sense, given that funding from all sources possesses an equal potential for corruption. The only true test of quality, once again, is not the source of the funding but whether any research product is consistent with known facts and can be independently confirmed or replicated by other scientists.

Those arguing for the disclosure of funding sources intend that action to provide a signal of potential bias, but the reality is that disclosure also routinely implies bias where none actually exists. Worse, well-intended disclosure of funding sources can become a tool for advocates to launch ad hominem attacks against authors, for example the Forecast the Facts’ petition against Dr. Soon mentioned earlier. Threatened disclosure also acts to intimidate those who fund scientists whose research contradicts the conventional wisdom on particular topics, as exemplified by recent letters from members of the U.S. Congress to businesses and “think tanks” that have provided funding to independent climate scientists.

Institutions such as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics provide an assurance to the editors of academic journals, government funding agencies, commercial firms and the popular press, as stated in the Smithsonian’s “Statement of Values and Code of Ethics”,

„that fundraising activities support the Smithsonian mission and protect the Smithsonian’s reputation, integrity, and independence, while regarding donors and sponsors with the highest level of respect and establishing relationships characterized by forthrightness and honesty.“

Stating their affiliation with such organizations enables scientists such as Dr. Soon to send editors and readers the message, accurately and properly, that they are pursuing real science without fear or favour, unhindered by any conflict of interest.

In summary, science is different from politics or commerce in that judgments about the validity of a research conclusion can be made based on whether that conclusion is consistent with known facts and can be independently confirmed or replicated by other scientists. Who funded the research is simply immaterial.

Mittlerweile macht der US-Politiker Raul Grijalva regelrecht Jagd auf von ihm ungeliebte Skeptiker und fordert die Herausgabe von Privatkorrespondenz. Dies ging dann sogar der IPCC-nahen Fachzeitschrift Nature zu weit, die eine Beeinträchtigung der wissenschaftlichen Freiheit erkannte. Am 4. März 2015 war in Nature zu lesen:

An investigation into the funding sources of climate scientists who have testified to the US Congress makes demands that have the potential to infringe on academic freedom. […] On 24 February, Raúl Grijalva, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, released letters that he had sent to seven universities demanding information on the funding sources of seven other scientists whose views he does not appreciate. […] Grijalva’s inquiry is a fishing expedition that seems to have been crafted for publicity rather than clarity. Among his targets are a few long-time climate sceptics, such as Richard Lindzen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Also on the list are policy researcher Roger Pielke Jr at the University of Colorado Boulder, whose ‘sin’ has been to question political convention on climate issues, and Judith Curry, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who has engaged with climate sceptics. […] Scientists must view their funding sources as public information that is always subject to scrutiny, and act accordingly. But when politicians seek to probe beyond possible sources of external influence on published work and attempt to expose internal discussions that they find inconvenient, that sends a chilling message to all academics and to the wider public.

Auch die American Meteorological Society (AMS) und American Geohysical Union (AGU) kritisierten Grijalvas fragwürdige Aktion heftig, wie die Washington Post am 27. Februar 2015 berichtete:

In a letter to Grijalva released this afternoon, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) — a scientific and professional society representing atmospheric and oceanic scientists — expressed strong opposition to the inquiry. “Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integritysends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” the AMS wrote. […] The American Geophysical Union (AGU), another professional society representing thousands of earth scientists, took a more nuanced stance in a statement also released today. It did not explicitly criticize the Grijalva inquiry but said scientists must be able to carry out their work free from academic interference and “without fear or intimidation.” Its letter stressed that the AGU requires scientists to reveal the sources of their funding and any conflicts of interest.

Kurios: Grijalva hat selbst Geld von grünen Lobbygruppen erhalten, was er in den Briefen an die Universitäten mit der Forderung zur Offenlegung der finanziellen Unterstützung auf jeden Fall hätte erwähnen müssen. Sterling Burnett vom Heartland Institut schreibt hierzu:

Grijalva himself has taken $78,854 from environmental lobbying groups, according to the imablawg website. Pielke tweeted, “Once you tug on the thread of undisclosed financial interests in climate science, you’ll find it more a norm than exception.”