Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tin foil hat territory....

Over in Google Groups/globalchange (have to add that to the blogroll), James Annan has accused Eli of being a conspiracy theory fan. With an invitation like that how can we resist entering tin foil hat territory in speculating about how Pat Michaels got to be called State Climatologist. Beyond the introductory material for the non-academic, no one should accuse me of having anything beyond questions (yet).

Introductory material for non-US academics:

US academics come in two flavors: tenure/tenure track and all others. Tenure/tenure track faculty have ranks of assistant, associate and full professor. The receive nine months salary from the university at which they work. They can obtain salary for the other three months from grants/contracts, teaching summer school or their father-in-law. Or they can go sit on the beach.

All others work on temporary contracts. If someone is called a Research Professor or an Adjunct Professor, you can bet that the University is not paying his or her salary. In many cases the person works at a research institution/national lab, etc. and has the title so that he or she can supervise student research. In many other cases the person brings grants and contracts into the University from which his or her salary is paid. Since Research Professors of the later type occupy lab/office space there is not much of a margin when their grants run out. The rule is that when the support goes so does the Research Professor (I know you can find the occasional counterexample, but these are the general rules).

Putting on our tin foil hats....

Pat Michaels is Research Professor and State Climatologist according to the Environmental Sciences Department at UVa. According to Kevin Lynch, the position of State Climatologist does not exist, and Lynch, a lawyer has looked at the records. You can find another version of what went on in the Daily Progress. From the latter, according to the governor's representative, Michaels is an employee of the University and

“He doesn’t speak for the state. He doesn’t speak for the governor,” she said. “This is the University of Virginia having this particular faculty member head up their office of climatology.”
According to the University
The position of state climatologist is a gubernatorial appointment,” said Jeffrey G. Hanna, senior director of university relations. He produced copies of Michaels’ letter of appointment on July 8, 1980, by then-Gov. John N. Dalton and of professor Bruce P. Hayden as acting state climatologist by then-Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. on July 13, 1977.....

Hanna said the state climatologist position “is not ceremonial. … The state climatologist produces data and reports for the commonwealth and its citizens. This includes drought predictions for crops as well as work with state emergency agencies in the cases of, say, hurricanes or winter storms."
and there lies the current rub. The University and Michaels represent that he is speaking for the state and he does play Virginia State Climatologist for the Federal Government. That may not be a simple ball of string to untangle in so far as he has been responsible for any actions with consequences (like a bad drought forecast).

However, the more interesting question is why UVa hired a freshout (Michaels got his Ph.D. in 1979 from Wisconsin) as State Climatologist. So here is what the Tin Foil Rabett is looking for:

-Why was Hayden named State Climatologist in 1977?
-What was the interest at UVa in capturing the salary line?
-Was Hayden then on the faculty, or did they need a parking place for him at that time?
-If UVa was using the State Climatologist salary line to hold Hayden, did he get a tenure track appointment in 1980, which opened up the position?
-If not, and Hayden already had a tenure track salary, what did they do with the State Climatologist salary?
-What was Michaels hired to do?
-Why did UVa hire Michaels for a position which appears to call for someone more senior than he was (there has to be an offer letter setting forth his duties and the benefits and correspondence)?

Other things to contemplate include Virginia Tech trying to grab the position back.


Anonymous said...

As you indicate, it would seem that Hayden probably knows the answers to most (if not all) of your questions.

My guess is that it may require an investigation by the state attourney's office to get some answers.

James Annan said...

Certainly Michaels' apparently junior status on appointment raises some questions. Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss the matter. Enjoy your burrowing!

Hank Roberts said...

To be fair, James even before he came 'round only said "you ... are thinking too much like a conspiracy theorist ...".

So, whether you're thinking "too much" or only "sufficiently" like one, you may use that approach to find the dirt under the carpet.

Being able to think like one doesn't make you one. As long as it's an optional behavior (grin) it's a research tool.

Hank Roberts said...

Following on, I notice there's more on the story, notably this:

Which includes this:

"The money in both cases seems to have gone to New Hope Environmental Services, Michaels’ “advocacy science” consulting firm, which publishes World Climate Report, a publication that denies mainstream climate science. More pledges may be forthcoming.

That was just for this year. Michaels has been getting major funding from fossil-fuels industry for many years. The Western Fuels Association had been funding Michaels’ newsletter, World Climate Review (a dead-tree precursor of the now blogified World Climate Report) since at least 1991—and failing for some time to disclose Western Fuels’ sponsorship.

The fossil-fuel and electric industries’ funding of Michaels is a long story, and part of their tangled web of PR and lobbying offensives to raise doubt about legitimate science on climate change. ....

These facts are critically important, because they add up to a profound “conflict of interest” that undermines Michaels’ credibility as a fair commentator on climate science. ....
Another source of Michaels’ institutional and financial support is his affiliation with the Cato Institute. ....

....Cato “scholars” inevitably argue against government regulation of almost anything and everything. (In this case: carbon dioxide emissions.) Second: Cato gets considerable money from fossil-fuel interests that oppose controlling greenhouse emissions—including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and ExxonMobil. Cato fellows typically are paid—although whether Michaels gets a Cato stipend and how big it is are not currently known. ....

and this:

"The Post article doesn’t question assertions that Michaels does “research.” The evidence that Michaels has ever done significant amounts of research serious enough to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals is ... slim at best. This is not to say that he has never been published in a scientific journal—but merely to say that the vast bulk of his work has been polemics published in non-scientific or non-refereed publication, often publications with an axe to grind. The role of gadfly—picking at the intellectual weaknesses in other people’s research can indeed be a valuable and honorable one. But only when it is intellectually honest.

"Harvard’s John Holdren, currently President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told the Senate Republican Policy Committee, “Michaels .... has published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science.” "

Which led me to look for any articles authored by Chip Knappenberger but not also by Pat Michaels; I found only a handful.

I notice Mr, Knappenberger recently has had a lot to say in public about climate change, recently -- it makes me wonder if he's developing a reputation on his own apart from his work as a coauthor with Michaels, and apart from his funding by the coal industry.