Monday, March 10, 2008

Global Warming Payola

From the New York Times comes this tidbit of interest. People tend to trust the government research more than privately funded research. But you have to wonder how well researched or documented situations regarding the environment or diet or any other of the media buzzwords are completely clear when money and government grants get in the way. Do you bite the hand that feeds you? Or do you simply create research to support whatever plans are in place?

Entire story here.

"....Now, you may trust the government agencies more than you do private companies because the agencies are supposed to be serving the public, not increasing profits for shareholders. But the officials running the agencies have their own agendas — like increasing their budgets and power and prestige, which can be done by supporting research demonstrating that there’s a terrible problem for the agency to solve. These officials are also subject to pressure from politicians and from the research establishment, which by definition tends to be more interested in work that conforms with the prevailing wisdom.

Once the fat-is-bad theory became the consensus — and was being formally promoted in federal agencies’ recommendations to the public — the officials handing out money were much more interested in finding evidence about the evils of fat than in looking at alternative hypotheses (like the carbs-are-bad theory discussed by Mr. Taubes). And research that jibed with the majority opinion was more likely to appeal to the editors and reviewers at journals as well as to journalists covering the debate. Scientists and journalists try to be open-minded, but they’re not immune to the confirmation bias that has been documented in so many experiments.

Moreover, it’s naive to think that money from industry is a monolith supporting one side of a debate. There were plenty of food companies eager to support the fat-is-bad consensus and profit by selling new low-fat products, just as there are companies — whole industries, in fact — eagerly promoting research and policies that jibe with the prevailing view on the dangers of global warming. Granted, there are companies lobbying against emission cuts because it could cost them money, but there’s plenty of potential for profit in the campaign against global warming, and energy companies are already angling for their cut.

A cap-and-trade systems for curbing carbon emissions (the kind criticized at this week’s conference) is popular in Washington in no small part because of corporate lobbyists who see a chance to make money from the carbon credits. There’s money to be made in developing alternative energy — even when it’s not so green, like the ethanol industry that has been collecting subsidies for decades. There’s money to be made by cultivating a green image. And there’s lots of money to be doled out to researchers studying climate change and new energy technologies...."

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