The baptist and the bootlegger: Any takers?

I get tons of drive by attacks on the HTTTACS articles and most are pretty thoughtless repetitions of everything we’ve heard a hundred times before, and often posted directly underneath their own refutations.

But occasionally there are seemingly very sincere and well posed questions or arguments that I have not addressed very thoroughly or very well before. These deserve equally thoughtful answers but I don’t always have the time to provide them.

I recently received one such via email from a fellow named Jonathon, which I will present below:

Dear Mr. Beck:

My name is Jonathan [redacted]. I am a fairly recent graduate with a BS in Economics, mostly focusing my research on climate change which I hope to pursue on a graduate level in the future. I’m also in the odd place of being a very staunch advocate of free market capitalism while believing climate change is a problem. I’d ideally like to try and reconcile the two in the future but my research isn’t why I’m e-mailing you. As I frequently refer to your refutations of denialist claims that I frequently encounter (ex. “since it’s exceptionally cold this particular day, therefore there is no such thing as global warming”), I find it as a way of keeping sane. However, I have two questions that I don’t feel you’ve really addressed in your guide.


One claim that I’ve encountered and can’t quite find a good reason to refute it is a claim about rent seeking or a “baptist and bootlegger” problem. The idea is that nearly all scientists get their funding from the government, and being normal people, they want money so they can continue to have comfortable lives doing what they enjoy, they will go with the flow and generate climate research that points to climate change which means they’ll get more money to investigate the problem because it’s of urgent importance and it’s another way for the government to exercise its power. This is not to say there is some grand liberal conspiracy of scientists or that all scientists are insincere and lack integrity, merely that they’re people who have families and bills to pay and they’re going to give the people who are paying their bills (bureaucrats who decide how to allocate funding) what they want to hear. A similar argument is that of the “baptist and bootlegger” – some argue that like a baptist preacher who would by day preach the evils of alcohol and by night make a hefty profit off moonshine, people like Al Gore are profiting through schemes like climate offsetting by preaching the impacts of global warming.

The closest you come to addressing this point is here – – but you cite entirely organizations who receive their funding through government grants. I do appreciate you cite some CEOs as acknowledging that climate change is a serious issue but one could argue that they have no more expertise in proclaiming climate change is real than a conservative pundit or economist in denying the fact. Essentially, this is a problem of “Who stands to gain?” and I’m curious how you address that.

Secondly, I have heard arguments that at the root of climate change debate isn’t so much actual science but philosophy and that environmentalists are using science for their own advantage to promote their own anti-capitalist agenda. I’m sorry I don’t recall the exact article, but I do recall on one occassion that GRIST was attacking a CATO Institute (a prominent libertarian think tank, in case you weren’t aware) who did a paper on climate change from a free market perspective (though rather wishy washy, in my opinion) and GRIST started attacking the paper based on assertions like “the free market is the best system for progress and equality”, arguing that the free market doesn’t “really” do that, that capitalists are greedy, bad people, etc. In short, this isn’t really abotu climate change but against environmentalists, who are inclined to be anti-capitalist, using science as a way of pushing their own agenda and that they could care less about the facts and merely want to placate their political and philosophical preferences. Furthermore, at least I would say that an environmentalist has no more right to pretend and be an economist than an economist does at trying to pretend and be a climatologist. In short, how do you address this point as well?

Thank you for taking your time in addressing my questions and I hope you will be able to respond.


I don’t find the second point very interesting as it is really besides the point about what the scientific case is. Anyone is free to use valid science as they wish, I only object when people lie and misrepresent it. The alleged agenda of someone offering a solution is is already beyond the question of is there a real problem, which is what my guide has always focused on. The article Jonathon cites in his first point, (local copy of that article is here) is actually a better response for the second point, at least if the suggestion is that the scientific case itself is the result of a pre-existing philisophical agenda.

But the first point, that science is biased towards findings that perpetuate its funding, is at least plausible. But a plausible hypothesis is not enough to draw a conclusion from. Is there actual evidence to support this? Is there evidence that is inconsistent with this hypothesis?

Frankly, my main peeve with people who offer this up as a reason to reject 100+years of developing research, is that they never offer any good evidence that this effect is, one, real (and I actually don’t doubt it is) and more importantly two, that it is large enough to sway thousands and thousands of researchers so far from the truth. I would also appreciate someone believing this to be the case to explain how a government full of former and future oil executives is seeking evidence that burning fossil fuels is dangerous. Why isn’t the bias the other way (and personally I think any such government influence does in fact push the other way).

Does anyone out there want to take a crack at offering Jonathon a respectful and substantive answer? Why shouldn’t we be wary of scientific research whose very existence depends on certain conclusions?

122 thoughts on “The baptist and the bootlegger: Any takers?

  1. Ian says ” I know enough abotu Spencer and Christy (and I’m sure it is their rubbish you are quoting) to know that it is rubbish and is not part of the PRSL.”

    Then where presented with proof he is wrong he says “I never said that Spencer and Christy have no papers in the peer reviewed scientific literature.”

    So which Ian is telling the truth and which is the liar.

    Seems like you have trouble remembering what you do say and where you said it.


  2. Vernon, for goodness sake grow up and admit you were wrong. I repeat that I was referring to the cite by snowman. Anyone with more than two neurons to connect together will have seen that. Once again you prove that deniers are at the bottom of the class when it comes to intellectual ability.

    Keep up the good work Vernon, I’m sure the other deniers are cringing and worrying what nonsense you are going to say next in your efforts to prove that you have no case, just ad hominem attacks. I guess I won’t be receiving an apology any time soon for you referring to me as a liar when it is obvious that you were mistaken. Par for the course of course, from deniers.


  3. This is a little off topic, below is a link to a site i visit now and again for a bit of amusement and once again it has not let me down.

    Judging by the previous posts we could do with a good laugh, so here it is.

    Have a nice day



  4. So to sum up – the deniers (aka the elders of Krypton) have no evidence and get huffy when asked to provide cites or sites to back up their claims.

    Any time you ask for a peer reviewed article in support of their claim, the only answer is the sound of crickets.

    The real scientists get annoyed at the deniers buzzing with partial facts and tiny snapshots of data that “prove” their Exxon-serving outlandish claims. The say, patiently a few times, “what is your source” – then they dismiss the poster as a denier troll.

    Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and instead of leveraging a cool year or two to reduce CO2, we as a society do nothing, fueled in part by raucous and vacuous claims of the deniers.

    Is that about right?



  5. thoughtful Tom –

    Don’t forget denialists/deniers slandering scientists, and then positing world-wide conspiracies amongst all climate research scientists and governments for the purpose of implementing an extra cost on greenhouse gases.


  6. Tom,

    Your latest post requires correction.

    Do you drive a car powered by an internal combustion engine running on petrol? How about where you get power to light and heat your home? From the same place as me?

    Why dont you go and live in a cave otherwise you are just serving Exxon like the rest of us.

    Also do not blame the deniers on this or any other site for the lack of action displayed by governments past and present.

    In 1988 Hansen announced to the world that CO2 was/will cause catastrophic climate change and in 21 years what has happened? Absolutly nothing Tom, now why is that Tom do you know why nothing has happened?

    Actually i can tell you that at least 50 Billion US dollars have been spent on CC.

    Was this money spent on R&D to replace our current based load coal/gas/nuke power? No of course not.

    Was this money spent on R&D to improve the very inefficent photo voltaic solar cells? Of course not.

    Was this money spent on R&D to improve battery technology? Of course not.

    Most of the money has been spent on motel and Al A Carte resturant food bills at the worlds most exotic locations as part of the travelling IPCC road show, oh and of course on some big shiny new computer models.

    So after 21 years and $US50,000,000,000 later the world has not reduced the CO2 levels by one molecule why do you think this is the case Tom?

    And after all this time and money the best our governments can come up with is a tax, a tax that will once again not reduce the CO2 levels by one molecule.

    In regards to your cheap shot about sources of information, can you be a bit more specific? Maybe i can help out in ths area.



  7. Nicely put, Crakar, but I’m afraid your efforts will be wasted. Once people put themselves beyond the reach of reason they cannot see that their computer models and theorizing mean little when compared to actual temperatures and real experience. So, your point about failed predictions will not, of course, be answered, other than by rants and abuse. A theory that has no predictive quality fails the first test of science.

    They will also keep repeating their mantra about peer-reviewed scientific literature and use the term so much they even give it an abreviation, PRSL, completely ignoring the arguments of Lee Smolin and others who point out that this once-valuable process has become shamefully degraded because of cognitive bias, emotional blackmail and career threatening attacks. In oher words, in today’s climate (if I might use the term) it is a brave scientist indeed who defies this, and an even braver editor who publishes contrary opinions. Remember that most scientific journals are not self-financing but rely on the support of foundations and are responsible to trustees and editorial panels. Once the lobby gets to work on these people with an email campaign, the editor is put in an impossibly invidious position.

    Having said that, there are a remarkable number of contributors and editors who are brave and independent enough to write what they think. At its conference in New York last summer the Heartland Institute published a list of more than 500 contrary articles in peer reviewed journals.

    The lobby often says, in faux incredulous tones, but surely you are not suggesting that the scientific community is engaged in some colossal, world wide conspiracy. Of course, no one is suggesting that. But even when it comes to subjects such as string theory, the pressure to conform is anonymous. Despite the fact that string theory has made no significant progress in 25 years, it remains dominant and beyond challenge. Indeed, not a single tenured physics appointment has been made at assistant professor or above to a non-string theorist at any significant US research university for more than two decades. If such pressures exist in a rather archane and esoteric field like this, imagine how infinitely greater they are in a topic like climate change, which generates such visceral emotion.

    Anyway, we shall see, as time and increasingly cold winters gradually chip away at the theory and bring the public and media to their senses. In ten or fifteen years, when temperatures have fallen to the extent that real alarm is setting in, we probably won’t have time to look back upon the late 1990’s and early 2000s. But if we do, we will ask ourselves how we managed to get things so spectacularly, tragically wrong.


  8. Snowman: did you ever get round to providing us with justification for your ridiculous claim that “ALL of the 0.6C rise of the 20th century has now been reversed”?


  9. I did. See various statements above put out by the University of Alabama at Huntsville, one of the four internationally recognized authorities on climate research.

    I should point out, however, that Ian was not impressed because the statements were not in his favoured peer-reviewed literature, but rather in general statements released by the university.

    In a way, his objection is legitimate. The problem is, however, that these statements simply note recent temperature swings and, as they are mere statements of fact, do not receive scientific examination. You might as well as for peer reviewed literature proving that the world is round.

    But in any, case, Richard, I don’t really think it matters a great deal as the temperature drops occurred in 07/08 and 08/09 – in other words, a pretty brief period in the scheme of things and perhaps not overly important for that reason.

    What is more significant, (and something I am genuinely curious about) is the long term pattern revealed not in climate science but geology. I don’t think it is disputed by anyone that over the past one million years the normal position, the default position, is one of ice age. Broadly, these ice ages have lasted about 100,000 years with, roughly, 10,000 year interludes. Throughout this era CO2 levels have sometimes been higher, and sometimes lower. Yet the ice always returns.

    What I would like to know is this: why do some people believe that our current era is fundamentally, radically different than anything that has gone before? Why do they not think that CO2 can rise and fall, but the ice will return?

    Incidentally, this current interglacial period has lasted about 12,000 years. Could a change be overdue, perhaps?


  10. But in any, case, Richard, I don’t really think it matters a great deal as the temperature drops occurred in 07/08 and 08/09 – in other words, a pretty brief period in the scheme of things and perhaps not overly important for that reason.

    Finally. Your position on this seems to have gone from presenting it as though it were some important evidence to “it’s notable” to “it’s ironic” to “I don’t really think it matters”. Since the rest of us started with “it doesn’t really matter”, we can now agree.

    However, you did get me to read some temperature records. My position is that swings like this aren’t relevant in most cases and bringing them up is either a lack of understanding of statistics or else an attempt to use others’ lack of understanding to deliberately mislead. (I’d put you in the former category.) What’s important is the long term trend of about 30 years, because it teases the real trend out of the noisy data.

    At any rate, I checked to see if we’d even seen large swings of temperature before. We have. I’ve made a partial list:

    Swings up:
    1939/12 0.622
    1973/02 0.592
    1952/02 0.587
    1977/03 0.578
    1995/02 0.561
    1973/01 0.540
    1952/01 0.528
    1998/02 0.501
    1958/01 0.487
    1944/01 0.447
    1998/04 0.446

    Swings down:
    1974/02 -0.681
    1946/08 -0.639
    2008/01 -0.602
    1974/03 -0.504
    1950/01 -0.485
    1964/10 -0.469

    The list isn’t complete. It includes months where the variation from the previous year is what I considered to be “notable”. To be honest, though, I think they’re only notable in that they show how noise in a trend can be misleading and how important it is to use proper statistics to not get distracted by irrelevant data.


  11. Yes, in saying things like it’s ironic I meant to express surprise that we seemed to be back where we started. I found it ironic and notable; others clearly didn’t. Moreover, I said at an early stage that many people believed that averages over a period of years would seem to be more relevant.

    Anyway, I rather regret having started all this because I think that there is a far more important and interesting point that I refer to above at 113 – namely, the frequency and seeming inevitability of ice ages.

    This, it seems to me at any rate, is a genuinely significant matter and I would like to know what others think.


  12. Re: ice ages, I only started reading up on it. What’s struck me so far is that the times aren’t as certain as I thought. For one thing, there was apparently a 28,000 year interglacial. I didn’t know that. For another, there are some newer competing ideas on the times involved.

    So I think we’re only past due for an ice age only if older schools of thought are correct on the time frames and also if things are likely to continue on as before. Neither of those things are certain, in my admittedly limited opinion.


  13. Yes, Pough, I think you may have in mind the recent article in Nature that did indeed suggest a 28,000 interglacial. It went on to report, as you correctly assert, that there is now some doubt about the regularity of the ice/non-ice pattern.

    So, your point is a good one. However, I think the article presents this as a speculative idea and the consensus still seems to be in favour of 100,000 year ice ages with 10,000 year interglacials.

    I suppose all that can be asserted with absolute certainty is that the ice will come back. If the 10,000 interglacial pattern is indeed typical, then it might come back pretty soon.

    As for the fundamental belief that ice ages are typical, and interglacials are not, I don’t think that has been challenged.


  14. Snowman said (in response to my asking him if he ever justified his claim that “ALL of the 0.6C rise of the 20th century has now been reversed”?)

    See various statements above put out by the University of Alabama at Huntsville, one of the four internationally recognized authorities on climate research.

    I did. In fact, I was the person who posted the link that you could not be bothered to provide. They did not support your claim, that I now see you are trying to back away from without actually admitting it is unsupportable. Next time perhaps you will be a bit more careful not to spout random nonsense.


  15. Not to ignore Snowman and Craker’s ranting about how it isn’t fair that “their” side can’t get published in peer review journals because of whatever the conspiracy theory de jour their science is bad, but if we are afraid we are heading into another ice age, and we know CO2 forces warming (which we do), then, why, why, why! don’t we save the CO2 by ending the use of fossil fuel as soon as possible? That way we could put some CO2 in the atmosphere when we need it and stave off the impending ice age.

    If this global cooling bit is an actual concern – and not the canard of the moment – it seems this brand of denier would be the loudest voice for limiting CO2 and other GHG emissions through taxes, cap and trade, greening their lives, etc., etc.

    I sense a non-trivial inconsistency here.



  16. Another ice age is surely coming, Tom, unless of course the planet has embarked upon a pattern wholly different from anything that has gone before. Let me sum up my point.

    I was invoking Occam’s Razor, the philosophical precept stating that ‘entities should not be allowed to multiply unnecessarily.’ To put it in more modern terms, the simpler explanation is always to be preferred over the more complex.

    One uncontested fact is that, over the past one million years, ice ages are the normal, default position of the earth, and are far more common than interglacial warms. There is some debate about the detailed figures, but the broadly accepted pattern is 100,000 year ice ages punctuated by 10,000 year interglacials. Throughout this period, CO2 levels have sometimes been higher than now, and sometimes lower. Yet the ice always returns.

    So, when we note the warming that occurred throughout much of the twentieth century and some recent evidence for cooling (although its significance is disputed) Occam’s Razor leads us to conclude that what we are seeing is merely business as usual.

    It also poses the following question: why, given the above, do we think that our current era is different from everything that has gone before in the history of the earth? What is the clear, unambiguous and compelling reason for believing that this time, the ice will not return? And given that the current interglacial has lasted about 12,000 years (rather longer than the average) how can we know that the ice is not imminent?

    It is not enough merely to point to relatively high and rising levels of CO2. As it has been higher in the past, this argument falls at the first hurdle as a scientific hypothesis.

    Some individuals here have attempted to portray this merely as a collision between the strict rationality of science, and rather wooly notions of philosophy. Of course, it is precisely the opposite. Occam’s Razor is a powerful, a priori method of arguing that cuts an argument down to its essentials, and is particularly valuable in scientific discourse.

    If anyone has a good countering argument, I would be genuinely interested in hearing it.


  17. Snowman, you can go on all you want about Occam’s Razor but any scientist worth his salt does not believe it for one minute.

    Scientists go where the data take them not where some philosopher thinks they should go.

    In science, some times the correct interpretation is the simplest but in a lot of cases it just isn’t. Why should it be? Science is a lot more complicated than philosophy.

    And over the past 500,000 years CO2 has never been as high as it is now. (see:


  18. Snowman,

    Can you please provide evidence for your erroneous claim that CO2 levels have been higher than they are now at any time in the last 1 million years. Or do we add this to your other incorrect and unsubstantiated claim that the last two years saw the temperature return to levels of 100 years ago?

    Both claims are completely false and therefore unsupportable.


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