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Pat Michaels

Posted by Oliver Morton on behalf of Alex Witze

It’s not easy being a US state climatologist — reporters call you every time a freak storm happens, the title generally carries more glory than pay, and every once in a while the governor starts paying attention to what you’re doing.

Patrick J. Michaels, the longtime state climatologist for Virginia, has finally thrown in the towel. A noted sceptic on climate change (see our earlier story), Michaels retired this summer after saying the position had become too politicized for him to function.

Nature reporter Jeff Tollefson has a brief update here (Oct. 4 issue, page 521[I’ll post a link when the issue goes live]). A note of warning to the guy who replaces Michaels: you might steer clear of accepting funding from the oil and gas industry while you’re in the job.

— Alex Witze


  1. Report this comment

    Chip Knappenberger said:

    You suggest that the future State Climatologist of Virginia should spurn research money form oil and gas industries? Are there other industries who research money should be rejected as well? Coal, automakers? What about agenda-driven environmental organizations? Is that research money acceptable? Or does it depend on the policial lay of the land? Sometimes research money from oil comapines on climate change is OK? Who decides?

    What about the ExxonMobil-funded Global Climate & Energy Project at Stanford University? Or the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute at Cal-Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign? Should the persons resonsible for bringing these projects to these universities be under pressure because the grants were from the oil industry? Or, as long as the intentions are “good” it is ok?

    Remind me again who gets to decide “good” climate research projects from “bad” climate research projcts. And is this determination made a priori or a posteriori? If oil industry-funded research shows that hurricane intensity will increase because of anthropogenic global warming then it was OK to have accepted it, but if the research failed to find a strong link then is was not OK to have accepted it?

  2. Report this comment

    Pops said:

    Money from Soros or Tides would be okay, of course, since they have no political motives…

  3. Report this comment

    Lincoln said:

    So nobody has common sense I guess. Even though an org is doing good – should we look the other way when they fund smear campaigns? No, I’d say we have to carefully evaluate the motives of anybody accepting funding from industry, no matter what the industry. It is no secret that we went to war over oil and can’t live without it. It is embarassing that we will have spent about $1 trillion by the time we are done with this war and nobody will say this was to keep oil flowing or at least out of the wrong hands. I bet $1 trillion could jump start a great number of alternatives to oil. We should be changing the energy field and game to pull the carpet out of the benefits of oil. Wake up and smell the coffee folks:

  4. Report this comment

    Demesure said:

    In France, one of the media’s darling on global warming is lead author at the IPCC, head of the LSCE, a climate research unit OF the CEA (commissariat a l’energie atomique).

    He should follow the author’s advice and resign then unless radioactive money is more acceptable than ketchup money is more acceptable than oil money is more acceptable than coal money.

  5. Report this comment

    Ken Zieg said:

    Always look at the data in a report,not the source of funding. Chip made some excellent points. Science is NEVER settled and the true deniers are the ones who deny looking at ALL data regarding climate change, not just the data that supports their ‘settled science’ idea.

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    Gavin said:

    Methinks Chip does protest too much. For instance, I think most people would make a clear distinction between funding that was publicly acknowledged (such as for the Stanford project, or at CEA) and that which cannot be disclosed since it was given under the cloak of anonymity. Paid advocacy and objective climate science do not comfortable bedfellows make…

  7. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:


    For the avoidance of doubt, you are saying that it’s OK for Shell to finance climate research, so long as it’s publicly acknowledged.

  8. Report this comment

    John Mashey said:

    1) Stanford & Berkeley take money for research projects, and they take oil money (despite occasional flak) because they understand that the problems are big enough to need industry cooperation. I see what they do, and I give credit to the companies funding it, and I don’t worry one bit … although it helps that I know Stanford’s President quite well and have talked to him about it.

    Forgive me for the unfamiliarity, but did Michaels get get money for research projects? Can someone point me at peer-reviewed research resulting from this?

    2) I know this is strange, but in California, the California State Climatologist is actually a state job, part of the Dept of Water Resources:

  9. Report this comment

    Demesure said:

    Gavin is right about funding transparency.

    But transparency doesn’t solve the problem of conflict of interests clearly posed here : CEA, a public atomic agency, seller of “zero CO2 emission” power plants is directly financing prominent climate change research units (LSCE & ISPL) whose many researchers are lead author or author at the IPCC. Imagine the uproar there would be had it been a national oil company!

  10. Report this comment

    John M said:


    With regard to transparency, does RealClimate receive any funding, and if so, from whom?

  11. Report this comment

    Gavin said:

    Transparency is the minimum, and yes, it is ok for Shell or even Exxon to fund climate research. As long as there is no hidden obligation to come up with specific answers, I don’t see the problem. I know a number of researchers working in Cenozoic climate that have oil company sponsors for instance.

    RealClimate is a purely volunteer effort – always has been, always will be.

  12. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    There you go Oliver & Alex. Oil and gas funding is OK. You heard it from Gavin himself. (Unless you know of a hidden requirement for Pat Michaels to come up with a particular answer, that is.)

  13. Report this comment

    Francis Massen said:

    As funding is such a big problem, I suggest that all fundings in climatology are to be shut down. Let’s go back to the times where the wealthy and distinguished amateur spends his own time and money at his research. Maybe climatology could survive this stop in funding for say 6 years; a thorough evaluation on what has been missed in 6 years should ease the decision wether or not to restart pouring money.

  14. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    And I’ve just been reading over at Comment is free that all the major questions in climatology have been answered, so yes, let’s leave it to the amateurs.

  15. Report this comment

    Eli Rabett said:

    Michaels was paid from a state grant that the state really didn’t know it was providing (there was no slot). When that went away so did he. That is what happens with research positions at universities in the US. No way UVa was going to come up with the $, and Pat was not going to run his consulting money thru UVa and pay the overheads.

    This is not a tragedy, nor a farce, but the way it works.

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    Russell Seitz said:

    “transparency doesn’t solve the problem of conflict of interests clearly posed here… Imagine the uproar there would be had it been a national oil company!”

    A major Scandinavian one comes to mind. Of course, it has even more natural gas, and thus a teraKroner to gain were a parliamentary committee to invest say, five million in enhancing the political credibility of a leading advocate of taxing its low-cost high carbon competition out of the marketplace.

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