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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the claim that financial incentives make claims suspect

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS49 - Eugenie C. Scott on Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution

Robert Biegler: "The claim that all scientists' warnings must be driven by a desire for grant money can be countered by pointing out that this is a universal argument against all warnings. By that argument, scientists must be wrong about thalidomide being a problem for pregnant women, it must be fine to dump mercury waste in fishing grounds (see Minamata), the Newfoundland cod fishery never collapsed, all other fisheries are fine, too, there are plenty of passenger pigeons and Tasmanian tigers, and the oceans are just brimming with blue whales, which are kept out of sight by scientists. The universal denial argument clearly is not universally correct.

A further point here is analogous to the counter to creationists' claims that evolution is ideologically motivated by atheism. That is implausible because scientists of lots of different religious faiths do accept evolution. Likewise in climate science, lots of scientists warn of global warming who are funded by governments that have strong motivations not to act, and therefore strong motivations to engage in wishful thinking and claim there is no global warming. China keeps the lid on social unrest by buying off its people with rising living standards. That depends on continued economic growth, and China is seriously worried about dependence on foreign energy sources. China does have a lot of coal. Nevertheless, China invests in reducing the carbon intensity of its economy. India wants economic growth, which could be powered most cheaply by coal. Despite these incentives, Indian and Chinese climate scientists don't say everything is fine. And US climate scientists kept warning of global warming even during the Bush administration, when the incentives rather were to say everything is fine. The claim that all warnings are motivated by financial incentives simply doesn't stack up."
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