Our Work Is Done – Please Cut Off Our Funding.

The title of this post is not something I’ve ever heard, nor do I expect ever to hear it. In business, there are legends about Grim Reapers efficiency experts who are hired to fire people eliminate waste, and because they are very good at their jobs, they eventually recommend their own firing. It’s conceivable that might actually happen, as people who are any good at firing people cutting waste most likely have another job or 10 lined up at all times, and might just want a change of pace.

But this sort of thing will never happen once a bureaucracy has been established.  As Pournelle’s Iron Law states:

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

The work of that second type of person – those who work for the organization itself – will never be done by definition. And they will run things. Thus, you will never hear from them that their work is done.

This state parallels somewhat the state of science versus Science! – actual research into the physical world under the rules established for such investigations over the last several centuries, where the final arbiter of all theories is, as much as possible, conformity to what can bee seen in the objective universe, versus the world of cargo-cult Science!, where it’s publish or perish, careers are more important than truth (1) and no cruel fact is ever allowed to kill a beautiful theory. Add bureaucracy to Science!, and it works just like any other bureaucracy, and the parallel is exact.

These thoughts were occasioned by an article mentioned yesterday, wherein a climate scientist confessed that, out of 262 climate models out there, only 10 took Pacific ocean temperature cycles into account, and could be seen as predicting the last 20 years of flat global temperatures and are not inconsistent with a growing Antarctic ice sheet.

I quipped that the next sentence should have been to the effect that the 252 WRONG models were now headed for the dumpster. But of course that isn’t said  – because that isn’t happening.

I’m not privy to any of the details – I don’t work in the field or with any people who do (2) – but I am familiar with bureaucracies (3). But what I’m sure happens  is something like this: a team consisting of scientists, model-builders and admin, working from a grant that was written up in such a way that the approving authority could be certain what the nature of the findings would be (4) develops a ‘model’, which is nothing more that an attempt to express a theory and the assumptions that underlie it in math. This model must be presented as something new, or at least its application must be presented as unique. Any time the suggestion arises that the model is the same as or has been supplanted by some other model, gobbledygook will be issued to the effect that No, this is an important and distinct model! Our efforts are irreplaceable. We need more money to complete the unique approach we’re taking.

The funders, perhaps surprisingly to the uninitiated, are quite on board with this argument, as they are not paying for science, but Science! – results that back up whatever it is they’re selling. So, they don’t want to suggest that groups get shut down in favor of groups with better models any more than the group with the inferior model wants to be shut down. To suggest that something other than the desired ‘results’ are to be used as the measure against which the process & group will be judged is to start down a path with potentially grim (from the parties involved points of view, at least) implications.

Thus, once a well-funded team concocts a model that yields the kind of results the funders are looking for, it will never die, at least until the funders have no further use for the propaganda they are generating.

A couple hundred years ago, there were a number of theories about chemistry floating about, but the relentless efforts of bunch of science heroes whittled them down over the course of a few generations by the wonderful process of 1) messing with stuff: weighing it, purifying it, heating it up, cooling it down, burning it, combining it, dissolving it – and keeping careful notes of what happened; 2) trying out the that stuff other chemists were doing, and seeing if it worked the same for them; and, most important, 3) checking to see if current theories could explain what they were seeing, and making up new theories to cover cases where they didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat.

A few more esoteric theories – phlogiston springs to mind – hung around a bit longer, largely because they didn’t really affect the results much: if you wanted to attribute heat to phlogiston, maybe you had to perform a few more mental gymnastics, but it’s not like your results were going to be any different. At least, for a generation or two. Those guys died off, and with them phlogiston theory.

Modern chemistry and, by extension, all of us, owes a lot to a bunch of back-stabbing egomaniac workaholics from those times. They fought – and fought dirty, often enough – for wealth and glory, which didn’t at that time come from landing grants and getting tenure. Shooting a competing theory down was a chest-pounding moment of triumph.

Climate studies, on the other hand,  provide no incentive – no pats on the backs, let alone jobs – to people who *get the wrong results*. Originally, I’m sure there were some perfectly honest attempts to analyse the climate, and perfectly reasonable conclusions reached that, over a (ridiculously short, from a trend POV) time frame, world-wide temperatures had gone up a bit. Early on, maybe even the speculation was reasonable: perhaps C02 is causing this? Perhaps it will continue to get warmer? All this is well and good, especially couching speculation as such, with question marks.

The next step should have been the creation, testing, discarding and creating anew of theories and models left and right, testing each against Nature and choosing the best and throwing out the rest in a joyous back-stabbing parade of workaholic egomania unleashed. More or less. But soon, our self-appointed betters (5), who never sleep in their efforts to find ways to concentrate power and punish their enemies, found these preliminary and properly hedged conclusions just too darn useful. Why, here, stripped of all restraint and under vanishingly unlikely  worse-case scenarios, is a perfectly good crisis! Even better, it requires concerted global action to address! (6) There’s no limit to the power we’d need to control carbon output world-wide! Perfect!

Thus, no models will hit the trash can, scientifically speaking, as long as there is any need  to produce useful (to them) output for the funders. And people who get the wrong results will remain unfunded.

(One last aside: certain business concerns – GE springs to mind – are making a killing off green energy. Just as climate bureaucrats and celebrity spokes-idiots fly jet to exotic locations to confer on how to cut carbon emissions or accept awards, giant manufacturing firms continue to consume vast quantities of carbon-based energy to produce their green and other products. In both cases, the evidence in front of our eyes strongly suggests that these folks – climate bureaucrats and green manufacturers – don’t even slightly believe what they’re saying. A GE or even an oil company might find it a plausible strategy to go along with climate craziness and cash in on it now, with some confidence that it won’t matter to them and their business in the long haul. If so, they may be wrong, but they may be right. But if this is the strategy, it might explain why there isn’t a larger body of industry-funded counter studies published. Pure speculation on my part, here.)

  1. This is idealized, of course. Anything with real people involved will never be this tidy, and real scientists can be very petty backstabbers defending their turf. But real scientists still acknowledge the primacy of objective reality, and appeal to it for judgement, even when they act knavishly. Practitioners of Science!, not so much.
  2. I have briefly met Dr. Matt Briggs, a real live climate scientist and delightful man, but he does not play the games we’re describing in this post, and so is no longer employed as a climate scientist. That’s part of the deal – no opposition can be brooked.
  3. Apropos of nothing, read a good book about bureaucracy while studying in the library for my MBA 25+ years ago. 5 whole minutes of web searching failed to turn it up, so I can’t provide a link. The major assertion of the author, which he illustrated through the history of French kings, is that a bureaucracy is intended to remove the need for any responsiveness to local needs and replace it with the need to be responsive to distant needs. His illustrative French king faced a problem: he counted on his nobles to collect and transfer taxes to him. If he failed to keep them happy, the collected fewer taxes and took longer to hand them over. Solution: establish a royal tax collection service with local agents all around France, who collected taxes from locals but was answerable only to the king. To keep his job, he needed to hand over money – the more, the better – to the king on a regular schedule regardless of what the locals might think of said king. Nobles interfering with this process were directly challenging the throne, and could get their heads removed from their shoulders. Pulling this off was a key achievement in establishing the glorious (after a fashion, if you like frou-frou furniture, etc.) French kings of history leading up to the Revolution, all part of a grand plan to neuter the nobility and centralize power.
  4. You think people with money, government or private, are going to spend it on activities that can potentially be used against them? Ain’t happenin’, any more than a good lawyer will call a witness unless he’s thoroughly coached that witness on what to say and is confident he’ll say it.
  5. If this seems like some sort of wild conspiracy theory nonsense, I direct your attention to Gramsci and Alinsky. The corollary to  the well known political rule ‘let no crisis go to waste’ is ‘if you need a crisis and there isn’t one handy, make one up.’
  6. Which is why you’ll read 25+ articles about the need for reducing carbon output for every one that suggests a technological solution. Technological solutions could be applied without the need for a totalitarian world government, and thus are not useful. Useful idiots sometimes stray a little off point in their innocent idiocy.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Our Work Is Done – Please Cut Off Our Funding.”

  1. Something that people occasionally forget about scientists, they have this strange desire to eat every now and then. Eating requires food. Food requires money. Money requires income. Income requires that somebody be willing to pay you. That requires that you give that somebody something that they want.
    What that somebody wants is to have a desk full of studies that will “prove” that what he has to sell is what the rest of the people need above all else.
    Our hungry nerd will deliver.

    1. So true. Eisenhower, in his famous ‘military-industrial complex’ speech, also pointed out that the days when science was by loan geniuses on their own dime had long since passed, and that we should beware the ‘government-science’ complex as well, because government is bound to pay for the studies it wants done and expects the results it has paid for.

      It’s just up to us to ask, when we see such studies, if there’s any reason to believe them other than that the guy who produced it wears a lab coat.

  2. I’ve got a cousin whose job is to, in his words, “be the a**hole.” He works for a company with a bunch of maintenance and improvement type contracts, and he gets sent in to cut deadwood, sometimes at the request of supervisors who can’t do it themselves because of group dynamics.

    They designed his job perfectly— he can’t hang around for more than a few weeks after he stops having objective improvements.

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