One of the most common unifying themes of the anti-science movement is the notion that large corporations and governments are concealing the truth for the sake of monetary gain. These conspiracy theories pervade blogs against GMOs, vaccines, modern medicine, global warming, etc., and they have led to the common trope, “follow the money.” This is a challenge that I repeatedly see anti-scientists make, and the idea is that if we simply follow the money trail, we will find that climate scientists are being bought off, the food supply is being controlled by the evil overlords at Monsanto, vaccine researchers are being paid by pharmaceutical companies, etc. This challenge is designed to quickly silence all opposition by establishing that all opposing research is biased and the scientists are only in it for the money.
There are, however, several obvious problems with this challenge. First, it is an ad hominem fallacy. For example, the fact that a vaccine researcher works for a pharmaceutical company does not automatically mean that he/she fudges their results. This leads to the second problem: for this argument to work, you need to show that researchers are actually being paid to be dishonest, not simply that their job is doing research. This places the burden of proof on the person telling you to “follow the money.” In other words, they must provide evidence of widespread corruption and dishonesty to support their claim. Finally, this challenge is applied inconsistently, and the people who issue it completely ignore the fact that many of their “experts” have financial conflicts of interest.
So ultimately, this challenge is a bad one because it has a logical fallacy as its core and places the onus on the person issuing the challenge. We have to make decisions based on facts, not based on the people who produced those facts. Nevertheless, for sake of argument, I want to accept this challenge. I am going to “follow the money” on global warming, GMOs, and vaccines, and I am going to show that if we accept this illegitimate challenge, it actually ends very badly for the anti-scientists. In other words, I intend to beat them at their own game (note: this post is long, so you can follow the hyperlinks to the different sections).
When following the money, it’s important to look at what each group stands to gain from their position (this is a task that anti-scientists tend to utterly fail at). Let’s start with the scientists who think that we are causing the climate to change. Most of the climate deniers that I have talked to think that these scientists are either directly getting paid off or they are just going along with it to get grant money. I’ve talked about the problems with the grant argument before, but, since I have agreed to play by the anti-scientists’ rules, I will overlook those problems for the time being and say (for sake of argument only) that it’s a plausible claim. Nevertheless, there is still a substantial problem with this line of reasoning. Namely, where is the money coming from?
Ultimately, if we trace it back far enough, the money for most major grants originates with the government. Indeed, many of the climate change deniers that I know think that corrupt politicians are behind this supposed hoax, but this raises an important question, “why would politicians fake climate change?” There’s no obvious answer to this quandary. At least in the US, climate change has generally been an unpopular political position. So saying that they are faking it to get votes is just silly. Therefore, most people say that they created this hoax to get money. The problem here should be obvious: most politicians don’t get any money for supporting actions to prevent climate change. Yes, climate change initiatives do often involve taxes, but that tax money doesn’t go straight into the politicians pockets. Further, let’s not forget that the government gives numerous tax breaks for installing renewable energy sources. Also, keep in mind that we began the journey down this money trail with the government giving billions of dollars to researcher’s to study climate change. How exactly are the politicians gaining money from taxes while simultaneously spending billions on climate research? Additionally, one of the most common arguments against trying to prevent climate change is that it will cost the government money and destroy the economy. I’ve talked to people who will in a single breath tell me that taking action against climate change will bankrupt the government and the government is paying off scientists in order to make money. These two views are clearly incompatible with one another. Finally, we always need to keep in mind that it’s not just the US. Almost every government in the world has acknowledged climate change and is supporting climate change research.
Given the complete lack of motive for politicians, some people instead say that environmental groups are the source of the funding. The most obvious problem with this is that most environmental groups are non-profits, which by definition means that they aren’t in it for the money. Further, environmental groups exist to deal with serious environmental problems, and there are plenty of real problems to take care of without inventing fictional ones. It makes absolutely no sense for these organizations to fake climate change when there are so many other problems to solve. They have nothing to gain from creating a fake crisis.
Now, having established a complete lack of incentive for starting this supposed conspiracy, I want to flip things around and look at the people who would benefit from denying climate change. This time, we have a very clear and obvious group that benefits enormously from denying global warming. I am, of course, referring to fossil fuel companies. Switching to renewable energy sources majorly hurts their bottom line. Further, unlike those who support action to prevent climate change, we have a clear money trail from fossil fuel companies to climate change deniers. It is undeniable that companies like Koch Brothers and Exxon Mobile have dumped millions of dollars into climate change denial. Further, the flow of money is not limited to think tanks and public groups. Many of the most prominent global warming denying climatologists have financial relationships with oil companies. A recent prominent example is Dr. Soon, who appears to not only have received funding from oil companies, but failed to report a conflict of interest in his publications (that’s a major taboo in science).
I want to be perfectly clear here. I do not personally think that all of these scientists are corrupt (though some of them likely are), nor do I think that we should automatically discredit their papers because they received some funding from oil companies, but I agreed to play by the anti-scientists’ rules, and their rule is “follow the money.” When we do that, we clearly see money going from oil companies to climate change deniers. In contrast, there is no clear financial benefit to creating a climate change hoax. Yes, scientists receive grant funding to study climate change, but there is no reason for governments to give out that money unless climate change is a real thing. Therefore, according to climate change deniers’ own rules, we should reject the “evidence” against climate change because of financial conflicts of interest.
Finally, remember that roughly 97% of climatologists, and over 80% of the general scientific community agree that we are causing climate change. That’s an awful lot of people to pay off. So, the question that you really have to ask yourself is this: which actually seems more plausible, that bankrupt governments and cash-strapped environmental groups have paid off 97% of climatologists without any clear motive for doing so, or enormous and powerful oil companies have paid off 3% of climatologists in order to protect their bottom line?
Anytime that the topic of GMOs arises all blame instantly gets placed on Monsanto. This company has been vilified to an utterly absurd degree, and most anti-GMO activists seem to be under the impression that it has a monopoly on our food supply. The reality, however, is that Monsanto isn’t that large. For example, in 2013 Monsanto’s net sales were worth $14.9 billion. To be clear, that’s a lot of money, but it’s hardly enough to buy a strong scientific consensus or to monopolize the food supply. It’s roughly the same annual net sales as Starbucks.
Perhaps the most telling number is, however, the annual net earnings of Whole Foods (one of the largest organic food chains). According to their own reports, Whole Foods earned a net of $12.9 billion in 2013. That’s only two billion less that Monsanto. Are you honestly going to tell me that two billion dollars is enough to pay off thousands of scientists from around the world? How exactly has an extra two billion dollars allowed Monsanto to monopolize the food supply?
Further, many people act as if Monsanto is the only player in the GMO world, but that is far from true. In fact, it’s not even the largest company involved. Cargill is much larger. Now, lest anyone suddenly jump over to saying that Cargill is the one paying off scientists, realize that Monsanto has always been the target of this conspiracy theory, so you can’t just switch over to Cargill in an attempt to save your argument (that would be a logically flawed tactic known as shifting the goal posts). Further, Cargill is only slightly larger than Koch Industries, and remember that oil companies like Koch and Exxon Mobile have been totally unable to purchase a scientific consensus, so it would be rather curious if Cargill had succeeded at that endeavor.
In addition to these large companies, there are numerous independent scientists, non-profit organizations, and smaller companies that research and create GMOs. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars in GMOs. One would think that investments by a major humanitarian organization would demonstrate that GMOs aren’t just about evil corporations trying to take over the world, but in the minds of conspiracy theorists, this is nothing more than evidence that Gates is in fact a sinister man trying to depopulate the planet. The problem with that line of reasoning is, of course, that it commits an ad hoc fallacy (or possibly a question begging fallacy depending on how it’s worded). In other words, I would not accept that Gates is trying to commit genocide unless I had already accepted that GMOs are evil.
Finally, I want to look at who benefits from opposing GMOs. I’ve already pointed out that Whole Foods makes almost as much as Monsanto, but Whole Foods is not alone. There are numerous organic companies that make huge profits off of their products, and all of those companies have an enormous financial interest in smearing GMOs. Beyond the actual companies, there are plenty of individuals who make their living off of attacking GMOs and “Big Ag.” Vani Hari (a.k.a. Food Babe) is probably the most prominent of these activists. Her favorite response to critics is simply to call them “shills,” and she argues that we shouldn’t trust scientists because they are paid to do research on GMOs. The problem is that she makes her entire income off of her blog, store, books, talks, etc. So, by her own logic, we shouldn’t trust her since she has a financial conflict of interest.
Again, I do not personally think that we should ignore her because of her finances (we should ignore her because she’s full of crap). I think that she probably does truly believe the non-sense that she promotes, but my point is that if we are going to play this game of following the money, then we must acknowledge that many of the people opposing GMOs have a large financial interest in doing so. Yes, Monsanto makes billions of dollars and is a for-profit company, but Whole Foods makes almost as much and it is also a for-profit company. Yes, there are plenty of GMO supporters who get paid to do research on GMOs, but there are also plenty of GMO opponents who get paid for opposing GMOs. Therefore, if we are going to follow the money, it is, at best, a stalemate.
It is rare to talk to an anti-vaccer without them calling someone a “shill,” and perhaps their most common argument is that Big Pharma is covering up the truth about vaccines in order to make money. As I will demonstrate, however, this claim is completely erroneous.
The first problem is simply that vaccines aren’t worth that much to pharmaceutical companies. Skeptical Raptor did a fantastic job of explaining this, but to give a quick summary, vaccines are expensive to produce and cheap to purchase. In fact, many governments force pharmaceutical companies to provide them for free to lots of people. So even at a quick pass that doesn’t take into account costs like R&D, vaccines make up less than 2% of pharmaceutical companies revenue. Once you actually account for factors like the billions of dollars spent on vaccine research, you end up with around 2.5 billion dollars in annual profit from vaccines. Now, two and a half billion may sound like a lot, but remember that we are dealing with companies that make several hundred billion or even trillion dollars in a single year. With that type of cash flow, 2.5 billion is almost nothing, and it’s certainly not worth creating a massive global conspiracy that involves paying off tens of thousands of scientists and doctors from numerous universities and hospitals from every country in the world. The math just doesn’t add up.
Further, if pharmaceutical companies were really only after money, then they shouldn’t be producing vaccines because it costs far more to treat a disease than to prevent it. For example, one study found that it costs over $10,000 per person to treat measles. Another study estimated that it cost between 2.7 and 5.3 million dollars to treat 107 measles cases. For those playing along at home, that’s roughly 25–50 thousand dollars per case! In contrast, the measles vaccine only costs $19–50. So pharmaceutical companies could make way more money from treating measles than from preventing it (on a side note, most outbreaks are in fact caused by unvaccinated people, and you are far less likely to get a given disease if you have been vaccinated against it).
To further drive this point home, consider the fact that prior to the polio vaccine there were entire hospitals devoted to treating that one disease. Think about that for a minute, the vaccine made entire hospitals (complete with doctors, nurses, administrative staff, etc.) totally obsolete. A study of the costs and benefits of the polio vaccine estimate that by 2015, the polio vaccine will have saved $178 billion in the US alone. Please, tell me again how vaccines are worth billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies. The numbers don’t lie. It’s cheaper to prevent a disease than it is to treat it.
Despite all of this evidence that vaccines aren’t in pharmaceutical companies best interests, many anti-vaxxers continue to insist that it’s all about the money, and a common claim is that all of the studies supporting vaccines were paid for by vaccine companies and conducted by scientists that work for those companies. On numerous occasions, I have provided an anti-vaxxer with a peer-reviewed study only to have them instantly reject it with a comment like, “why should I trust a study that was funded by Big Pharma?” To quote an unfortunately popular article by Natural Health Warriors, “vaccine safety trials are paid for by the very people who make the vaccines, so there is no possibility of the information being unbiased or truthful.” That’s about like saying, “the safety trials of Toyotas were conducted by Toyota, therefore there is no possibility that Toyotas are safe.” Nevertheless, looking beyond the patent absurdity of the “no possibility” clause, this claim simply isn’t true. Sure, vaccine companies have been behind some of the safety trials, but there have been plenty of trials conducted by independent scientists working off of grants that did not originate with pharmaceutical companies. Further, all scientific papers list their funding sources, the author affiliations, and any financial conflicts of interest. Half of the time when I see people blindly writing off a study as “biased,” they completely failed to look at this information. Therefore, I wanted to examine a small sample of the literature to see what type of pharmaceutical influences I could find.
I decided to take a quick look at the literature on vaccines and autism (since this is generally the number one safety concern I see people bring up). So, I chose 10 scientifically sound papers and looked at their funding and author affiliations (note: I only looked at their scientific content when selecting these 10 papers, I did not know anything about their funding or authors until after I had selected all 10; the papers are listed at the end of this post). These 10 papers were authored by 57 different researchers. Only seven authors were involved in more than one paper, and they only authored two of these papers each. These 57 authors were affiliated with 22 different organizations (note: I did not split up departments within organizations, there were, for example, several departments of the CDC). Twelve of the organizations were hospitals/universities (some were hospitals attached to a university, thus I lumped those categories), seven were from government organizations like the CDC (multiple countries were represented), and only three were from companies. Two of the companies were Abt Associates Inc. and Kaiser Permanente Northern California (the third was a health care company), and as far as I can tell, neither of these companies actually manufactures vaccines. They are certainly involved in vaccine research, but they aren’t pharmaceutical companies that are producing vaccines. Authors from those companies were only involved with two of the studies (Verstraeten et al. 2003 and Price et al. 2010). So not one of the 57 authors were actually employed by pharmaceutical companies.
Finally, let’s look at the grant agencies involved. I counted 15 granting agencies which ranged from organizations that were focused on autism research to massive groups like WHO and CDC. Of those 15 granting agencies, not one was a pharmaceutical company. Two studies (Smeeth et al. 2004 and Price et al. 2010) did, however, acknowledge potential financial conflicts of interest. Several (but not all) of their authors had previously received funding from vaccine companies for other projects. Nevertheless, those funds should not have affect these papers, and even if they did, that still leaves us with eight solid papers with no financial ties to vaccine manufacturers.
Now, inevitably someone is going to accuse me of having cherry picked these studies, but here’s the thing, you can test this yourself. You can get on PubMed or Google Scholar and look at the author affiliations and funding sources. You don’t have to take my word for it. Further, even if I cherry picked these, that still means that we have at least eight good, completely conflict free papers which found that vaccines were safe.
Additionally, these publications are not what we would expect if pharmaceutical companies were paying off scientists. Remember that there are lots of different companies that compete with each other. It makes absolutely no sense for these companies to pay off scientists to write yet another paper saying that vaccines don’t cause autism. If you haven’t believed the last 100 papers, why should we expect number 101 to make a difference? Rather, if there was a massive conspiracy, it would make sense to target the people who actual care about the scientific literature. In other words, rather than making broad statements about the safety of vaccines, they should claim that the vaccines manufactured by company X are safe, whereas the vaccines by other companies are dangerous. If vaccine companies have scientists in their pockets, then we should see a war between companies about whose vaccines are safe. Think about the logic here for a minute. Anti-vaccers already think that vaccines are dangerous, so they don’t matter, but those of us who care about the literature are going to be very interested in seeing that some companies are safer than others. If, for example, several studies came out showing that vaccines made by GlaxoSmithKline were dangerous but vaccines made by Merck were safe, I would absolutely demand that my vaccines came from Merck, and so would tons of other scientifically minded people. That is what we would expect a conspiracy to look like. Drug companies should be fighting with each other. Instead, we simply see paper after paper showing over and over again that vaccines are safe, regardless of what company they came from.
Finally, I again want to flip the situation around and look at the finances of the people who oppose vaccines. Unlike many of the scientists doing actual research on vaccines, anti-vaccers often have clear conflicts of interest. Most famously, Andrew Wakefield (the man who started the myth that vaccines cause autism) has been found guilty of falsifying data and receiving money from lawyers who were intent on suing vaccine companies. Nevertheless, many anti-vaccers still follow Wakefield and argue that pharmaceutical companies are simply trying to silence him. Consider for a minute how absolutely fantastic this double standard is. Anti-vaxxers consider anyone who opposes them to be a shill, and they repeatedly insist that we have to follow the money, but when we actually follow the money and clearly demonstrate that Wakefield was being paid off, they suddenly ignore their own rules and claim that Wakefield is a hero who is being silenced for telling the truth. It’s as beautiful a case study in ad hoc logic and inconstant reasoning as I’ve ever seen.
Wakefield is admittedly an extreme example, but many other less extreme cases exist. For example, have you ever stopped to follow the money on the anti-vaccine blogs and web pages that pollute the internet? If you haven’t, you should, because most of the major ones include a store selling the products that you supposedly should use instead of vaccines. GreenMedInfo, Natural News, Mercola, Modern Alternative Mama, etc. all have stores selling their products and books. Similarly, famous anti-vaccine doctors like Sherri Tenpenny make quite a bit of money off of their books, speaking tours, etc. This is true for much more than just vaccines. You find this pattern throughout the amorphous mess that is alternative medicine, and it’s actually a brilliant business strategy when you think about it. First, you scare people about the horrors of vaccines and traditional “western” medicines. Then, you tell them about some amazing “natural” product that Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about because it can cure everything from measles to infertility. Finally, you direct them to your store which just happens to sell that miracle product. There’s clearly no conflict of interest there (note the immense sarcasm).
My point in all of this is really quite simple: if we accept anti-scientists’ logically invalid challenge to follow the money, things end very badly for the anti-scientists. Decisions need to be made based on facts, not the people who support those facts, but if we agree to simply play by the anti-scientists’ rules, then we find a lack of motive for scientists to falsify data and strong financial motivation for anti-scientists to invent fictional conspiracies and oppose science. If anti-scientists actually followed their own rules, they would avoid most of the pages and blogs that they so dearly love to read and repost.
List of papers
Hviid, A., M. Stellfeld, J. Wohlfahrt, and M. Melbye. 2003. Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism. JAMA 290:1763–1766.
Anders, N., E. Miller, A. Grant, J. Stowe, V. Osborne, and B. Taylor. 2004. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United Kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics 114:584–591.
Destefano, F., T.K. Bhasin, W.W. Thompson, M. Weargin-Allsopp, and C. Boyle. 2004. Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan Atlanta. Pediatrics 113:259–266.
Madsen, K.M., A. Hvid, M. Vestergaard, D. Schendel, J. Wohlfahrt, P. Thorsen, J. Olsen, and M. Melbye. 2002. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. New England Journal of Medicine 347:1477–1482.
Price, C.S., W.W. Thompson, B. Goodson, E.S., Weintraub, L.A. Croen, V.L. Hinrichsen, M. Marcy, A. Roberston, E. Eriksen, E. Lewis, P. Bernal, D. Shay, R.L. Davis, and F. DeStefano. 2010. Prenatal and infant exposure to thimerosal from vaccines and immunoglobulins and risk of autism. Pediatrics 16:656–64.
Smeeth, L., C. Cook, E. Fombonne, L. Heavey, L.C. Rodrigues, P.G. Smith, and A.J. Hall. 2004. MMR vaccination and pervasive developmental disorders: a case-control study. Lancet 364:963–969.
Taylor, B., E. Miller, C.P. Farrington, M.C. Petropoulos, I. Favot-Mayaud, J. Li, and P.A. Waight. 1999. Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association. Lancet 353: 2026–2029.
Taylor, L.E., A.L. Swerdfeger, and G.D. Eslick. 2014. Vaccines are not associated with autism: and evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Elsevier 32:3623-3629.
Uchiyama, T., M. Kurosawa, and Y. Inaba. 2007. MMR-vaccine and regression in autism spectrum disorders: negative results presented from Japan. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37:210–217.
Verstraeten, T., R.L. Davis, F. DeStefano, T.A. Lieu, P.H. Rhodes, S.B. Black, H. Shinefield, and R.T. Chen. 2003. Safety of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines: A two-phased study of computerized health maintenance organization databases. Pediatrics 112:1039–1048.
List of grant agencies
- America’s Health Insurance Plans
- Autism Speaks
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Danish National Research Foundation
- Harvard Medical School
- Health Resources and Service Administration
- Kaiser Permanente Northern California
- Medicines Control Agency
- National Alliance for Autism Research
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Vaccine Program Office and National Immunization Program
- Statens Serum Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
- UK Medical Research Council
- University of California Los Angeles
- World Health Organization
List of author affiliations
- Abt Associates Inc.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Danish Epidemiology Science Center
- Department of Statistics, Open University
- Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington
- Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Harvard Medical School
- Health Protection Agency, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre
- Immunization Division, Public Health Laboratory Service Communicable Disease Surveillance Center
- Immunization Safety Office
- Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London
- Juntendo University School of Medicine
- Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, California
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.
- McGill University, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Canada
- Morbidity and Health Care Team, Office for National Statistics, London, United Kingdom.
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- Otsuma Women’s University
- Royal Free Campus, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College London
- Statens Serum Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
- University of Washington
- Whiteley-Martin Research Centre, Discipline of Surgery, The University of Sydney, Nepean Hospital
- Yokohama Psycho-Developmental Clinic
– This places the burden of proof on the person telling you to “follow the money.”
Regarding the pharmaceutical industry only (which vaccines are apart of): http://www.pharmamyths.net/files/JLME_ARTICLE_2013.pdf
I never denied that pharmaceutical companies are interested primarily in their bottom line, or even that they would be deceptive to protect their interests, but when we follow the money on vaccines specifically, we find that the argument that they are just a scheme to make money doesn’t make sense for all the reasons that I outlined. Namely:
1. Vaccines are a tiny percent of pharmaceutical companies income
2. It costs more to treat a disease than it does to prevent it
3. The literature is not what we would expect if scientists were just in it for the money
4. Many of the vaccine safety trials have absolutely no connections to the pharmaceutical industry
5. Many of the strongest opponents of vaccines have strong financial interests in doing so, so if we accept the “follow the money” argument, we must ignore them.
So the burden of proof is on you not to provide evidence that pharmaceutical companies in general have been deceptive in the past in order to make money (honestly, has there ever been any large company for which that isn’t true?). Rather, the burden of proof is on you to provide evidence that all of the research supporting vaccines is corrupt and fueled by greed. That’s a rather difficult burden given the facts that I have laid out here.
I’m from Romania, and in my country not later than 2-3 years ago we had a monstrous scandal with some vaccines that killed several dozen children just weeks after administration. They said the vaccines were “expired” and they did not paid attention to that. Really…?
Also, vaccines are actually paid by the gov, from taxpayer money, they’re not FREE. Nothing is free, not even air.
And another point, how the hell can in your country cost like 10000 dollars to be treated for measles??? That is bullshit.
How exactly are you jumping from “expired vaccines are dangerous” to “vaccines are dangerous and are all about profits”? The fact that expired vaccines are dangerous and doctors make mistakes in no way shape or form indicates that vaccines themselves are dangerous. Now, perhaps you are insinuating that the vaccines weren’t actually expired, and the vaccines themselves are dangerous (as indeed I think you are). This is what is known as a question begging fallacy. Where is your evidence that the vaccines hadn’t actually expired? You are choosing to believed that they weren’t expired because you already believed that vaccines weren’t safe. In other words, its an unsupported assumption. The burden of proof is on you to support that claim. Let me try to illustrate this by putting your argument into a syllogism.
1. Vaccines are dangerous because children died from the “expired” vaccines.
2. Those vaccines had not actually expired
3. I know that they hadn’t actually expired because vaccines are dangerous.
Your argument makes a circle. Its not logically valid. In other words, I would not accept that the vaccines hadn’t actually expired unless I had already accepted that vaccines were dangerous.
Further, you have utterly failed to address my key points. Look at the pharmaceutical companies’ financial records (there’s a link to a blog that shows and discusses them in the text). Regardless of whether or not they are paid for by taxes, vaccines aren’t worth much to pharmaceutical companies. Also, as I illustrated, the safety trials are not being funded by pharmaceutical companies. You are ignoring these facts.
Regarding the cost of treating measles, the US health care system is admittedly absurd (even breaking an arm costs hundreds of dollars), but the cost of treating measles is very high in any country (a large percentage of patients have to be hospitalized, and measles often results in other complications such as pneumonia).
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I’m not sure any anti climate change scientists are paid off. 3% seems plausible enough as an irreducible core of people who won’t be convinced when the evidence is complex, heavily statistically massaged (I mean this is the legitimate sense), and not directly observable in some sort of undeniable way.
Philosophically, it irritates me when the consensus position ridicules the idea that someone could disagree. They compare this to disagreement with the heliocentric solar system model. This wildly overstates the quality of the data that climate science has, though. I’m not doubting them. But it is just not the same as physics or chemistry in its predictive power.
If anything, this lack of humility has hurt the associated political movement. In 2000, I recall a British newspaper saying “Children will grow up not knowing what snow looks like”. This was written by a climate scientist convinced that action is necessary, and soon.
Speaking off the cuff came across as a prediction. A now-falsified prediction. Similarly for claims from the late 1990s that NYC would be under water. The science and the hype are mortal enemies.
If I were the CEO of Megadinosaur Oil Holdings, I would hire pro-AGW scientists to predict all the glaciers were about to melt by 2020, the poles would melt next year, and that the Great Salt Lake would be the Great Salt Lick in 2016. Because enough crying wolf, and politicians would get as far away from this as possible. Sowing mild doubt seems like a losing battle.
Love the blog. You have a lot of guts to butt heads with creationists and science deniers.
I am undecided about the extent that humans are affecting climate change. As a simple but compelling example right after 9/11 most aircraft were grounded. During that time the pan evaporation rate rose. Once the air traffic resumed the pan evaporation rate fell back to where it was. At many places in the world a pan (of a certain size) is filled with water and placed outside. The next day the amount of remaining water is measured. THen the process is resumed. (pan refilled etc) (I may have some of the bits wrong, however, the basic concept is correct.) This measures how much energy fell onto the water in the pan and caused some to evaporate.We have a good series of this measurement. During the time the aircraft were grounded the pan evaporation rate rose. More energy got to the surface of the water and caused more water to evaporate. During the day aircraft often leave contrails in the sky. Contrails are mainly reflective. That would appear that contrails during the day are reflecting sunlight and having a cooling effect. My point it that it is an effect. produced by a man made cause.
Unfortunately, I think some of the issue is co-opted politically. (on all sides) Politicians will say we must put solar on our homes etc. We must subsidize those installations. Unfortunately, solar is a variable output producer of electricity. In an electrical grid the engineers have to maintain a balance of supply and demand of a load. They put on line those sources that are less expensive first. With solar the power is fluctuating and they must power up and down power plants (usually natural gas turbines) to level out the load. A natural gas turbine is very efficient when run at or near full power. It is much dirtier when it has to run at a reduced load. Hence it produces more CO2 than if the solar power was not present. But it is not politically correct to discuss that problem. (in general) There are technological solutions to it, but we are not pursueing those.
I think you are slightly misunderstanding the results of the pan studies. Temperature certainly affects evaporation rates, but its not the most important factor. Sunlight is the important factor (the energy form the photons breaks the hydrogen bonds that hold water together). So yes, the evaporation rate went up without any planes. In fact, the evaporation rate has been slowly declining for decades, but that’s not evidence that we are doing something that is having a cooling effect, rather, it is evidence that we are blocking some of the photons. That may sound like double-talk, but its not, because the energy form the sun is still getting trapped on the planet. It is just being absorbed by gasses before it hits the surface. So the surface evaporation rates have decreased, but the global temperature has still increased.
I would also encourage you to ignore all of the politics and focus entirely on the science. People certainly try to make this into a political issue, but there is no reason why it has to be. The science says that we are warming the planet, that’s all that really matters.
I’ve always had a major issue with this “the temperature rose because there were no contrails” argument.
First, on a climatological scale, the few days that planes were grounded is a minuscule period of time.
Second, contrails are tiny hairlike traces compared to regular cloud cover, and as such would block/reflect a very, very tiny of sunlight – have you ever had a shadow cast across you by a contrail? No, didn’t think so.
Third, contrails typically last for very short periods – most dissipate within minutes, meaning there’s very little time that they would actually block any solar energy.
Fourth, they would only have any of this claimed effect during the day… in fact, given the usual altitudes at which they form, the actual time they COULD cast any shadow on the earth’s surface would be limited to a few hours either side of noon.
Fifth, consider that only flights over North America were grounded for those few days, and consider that 9/11 happened near the autumnal equinox, when day and night are equally 12 hours each – that means the “blocking” effect would normally only occur for about a quarter of the day in the areas it was presumably measured.
Sixth, correlation does NOT equal causation.
And finally: they’re chemtrails, dammit, not contrails. If we really wanted to test this theory, we’d just have them turn off the chemtrail discharge for the same period of time, and we should see the same pan test results as we had when all the flights were grounded. Right?
I am somewhat skeptical of that argument as well, but I consider it possible. Even just a slight reduction in solar radiation will have a big impact on evaporation rates, and there are thousands of planes flying daily.
Regarding your last paragraph though, are you being serious or sarcastic? I can’t tell, but I’m really hoping its sarcasm.
Oh, full, dripping sarcasm, of course 🙂
Thing is, living not far from a smaller international airport, and within about 50 miles of a major international airport and not far off its east-west flight paths, I hear planes going over pretty regularly… some days every one of them will leave a contrail, some days a dozen will pass with nary a hint of contrail to be seen. So saying the lack of contrails for those three days made a measurable, let along significant, difference is stretching the scientific method, to say the least. Where’s the control? Where’s the measurement from days that atmospheric conditions meant no contrails formed anyway? Was the sky NATURALLY perfectly clear those days? NO other cloud cover or haze? Over the ENTIRE US?
Consider my point about the shadow as well – look at the width of even a major visible contrail… now look at the diameter the sun appears in the sky. From the ground a typical contrail doesn’t come anywhere close to visibly blocking any light, let alone any other solar energy.
Given the relative size vs. the vastness of the sky and of the earth’s surface, the usually quick dissipation, and the altitude, LOGICALLY I can’t see a contrail causing a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of effect on the global temperature, let alone a measurable difference in the evaporation of water in a pie plate.
Is it POSSIBLE? I suppose so. It’s also possible monkeys could fly out of my butt 🙂
All that aside… the argument is for human activity causing an INCREASE in global temperature… but if the argument is correct and the contrails reduce solar energy reaching the surface… that part of human activity should be helping DECREASE the temperature. Wouldn’t we then want to get as many planes as possible in the air to crank up the cloud cover? Carbon footprint be damned, of course…
I kind of figured that it was sarcasm since the rest of your post was quite rational, but I’m glad to have that cleared up (its really too bad that sarcasm isn’t always obvious online).
You certainly make a good argument, and I definitely agree with you that it is a strained inference given the total lack of controls (after all, correlation and causation are not the same thing), but I honestly don’t have all the facts needed to really venture a truly educated opinion (e.g, total air traffic, the average emissions per plane, etc.).
Well that’s the thing, nobody knows for sure… and that’s the problem with most of these theories, there are so many facts ignored or just plain missing. In this case, there are just SO many HUGE gaping holes, though.
What gets me is how often this one is so readily tossed out as a “compelling example” (in scubajim’s words), when it’s just so full of logical leaps.
I want to start by thanking you for this blog, an island of sound information in a sea of wilful ignorance and ideologically motivated propaganda. Many are the hours I have sunk into battle against the cranks and the crackpots and the weirdos, over evolution and vaccines and GMOs and climate change. Victory may never be within our grasp, in any strict sense, yet the battle must be fought.
My reiterated point about vaccines is that the crackpots are always the same. They start off trying to sound reasonable, they swear their love for Science and vaccines, and when they sense a receptive audience they dive into the universal pitch: exaggerate some alleged dangers of vaccines, minimize the suffering and cost of disease and epidemics, and spin up some government/industry conspiracy to harm our children and suppress the true information that they have somehow managed to discover. Bonus points are awarded for complaints about bodily integrity and personal choice. The whole thing speaks to a puzzling inability by some people to grasp basic concepts in risk analysis; it shows up in the way some people will at the same time believe that outbreaks of the measles are completely harmless while swallowing reports that Fukushima radiation killed three million people in Japan and another million on the West Coast of America and Canada.
You are exactly correct about the obsession with Monsanto as the distilled essence of evil. One of the disturbing aspects about GMOs has been the mission creep: once it became dogma that GMOs are evil, a desperate search began to find excuses that prop up the belief that they are evil. GMOs are poison, shot down; Roundup is poison, shot down; Roundup causes cancer in rats, shot down; Roundup causes cancer in Argentina, shot down; Roundup kills gut bacteria and causes autism, a really stupid idea; the detergent in Roundup disrupts liver cells and causes autism and celiac disease, a really stupid idea. Yet these dumb ideas never die and are passed around as tokens of true belief. I have done a bit of work analyzing the Seralini demonstration with GMO corn and Roundup and rats, to show that simple arithmetic and bit of logic is all one needs to show that Seralini’s data can not possibly show what he claims to have shown – but the true believers don’t want to hear it. They have their sheafs of testimonials, swearing that Seralini is noble man oppressed by Big Science and Big Agriculture, so that becomes the excuse they use to prop up their beliefs.
For me personally the most disturbing aspect is how too many scientists have swallowed the red pill and taken up the antiscience position on GMOs as a badge of loyalty to their ideological beliefs. The cliche holds that MDs and scientists tend to lean left while dentists and engineers tend to lean right. No population is totally homogeneous in this regard, but the generalization is useful. Most of the time, leftie politics and scientific orthodoxy are consistent but GMOs can be a nasty little test. That idiot Gurian-Sherman has destroyed a lot of credibility built up by the Union of Concerned Scientists with his uncritical support of Seralini and the increasingly biased white papers coming out of the UCS agricultural division: if they are not careful, everyone will soon conclude that the place is just another leftie propaganda shop. The flip side of this coin, as you observe, is that anyone who speaks out against the Monsanto hysteria and the GMO hysteria and the Roundup hysteria and the butterfly hysteria and Seneff and Seralini risks being denounced as a shill and dismissed and a crypto-Republican: dishonest and insulting, but effective in silencing debate and maintaining ideological purity.
Thanks for listening, and maybe I will drop by again some day.
Small typo: “For example, in 2013 Monsanto had a net profit of $14.9 billion. To be clear, that’s a lot of money, but it’s hardly enough to buy a strong scientific consensus or to monopolize the food supply. It’s roughly the same annual net revenue as Starbucks.”
In fact you mean always revenue. The Net income is about $2.5 billion for Mosanto and $2 billion for Starbucks. But your point is right their are both the same size enterprise in term of profit.
Thanks, I’ve attempted to correct the problem.