Virginia's Heated Battle over Global Warming
And whether that climatologist is appointed and paid for by the state or by the University of Virginia, which, of course, is a taxpayer-supported public institution, the controversial fact is that said scientist, Patrick Michaels, is a vocal and vehement opponent of the idea that the Earth is warming, and because of that position, some utility companies that share that position have been hiring him as a paid consultant.
Which smells to a lot of folks like a conflict of interest.
This fall, Michaels is on sabbatical from UVa and will be teaching a course at the Northern Virginia campus of Virginia Tech--on global warming. And while no one has said that the professor is anything but even-handed in his teaching of the subject, there is no doubt that he has become an advocate in his research work on the politically volatile issue.
Michaels has held the title of state climatologist since 1980 and until last week, it wasn't clear whether he was appointed by the governor or the university. Michaels claimed his was a gubernatorial appointment, but Gov. Tim Kaine's office said this was strictly a university matter. Now, Kaine's secretary of the commonwealth, former Fairfax board chairman Kate Hanley, has written to the university at Charlottesville saying that the governor has nothing to do with this guy and wants UVa to make certain that he doesn't use his "state climatologist" title on any of his outside consulting work.
The stink over the climate man arose after news reports that a Colorado utility raised more than $150,000 in donations and pledges to pay Michaels to critique other scientists' research supporting the idea that the planet is getting too toasty.
Michaels' stance is that the Earth is indeed getting warmer, but not because of anything people are doing to it. Rather, he believes this is merely a natural process.
Michaels would have us believe that global warming is kind of...cool. "Growing seasons have lengthened, crop yields have quintupled, lifespan's doubled," he told CNN, where he appeared a few years ago in connection with his book, "The Satanic Gases."
"Most of my funding, the vast majority, comes from taxpayer-supported entities," Michaels said in 2002 when asked whether his taking money from anti-warming companies colored his research. "I would make the argument that if funding colors research, I should be certainly biased more towards the taxpayers, of which I am one, than towards industry. But the fact of the matter is, numbers are objective.
"And what you look at the global warming numbers, you cannot come to any conclusion other than the fact that we pretty much know how much it's going to warm in the next 100 years. It's not going to be that much. And you can't stop it."
Nothing that happens in Richmond or Charlottesville is going to settle any debates over global warming. But if you give someone a dandy title such as State Climatologist, you can bet that whatever positions he takes are going to sound like they have the authority of the state and its governor behind it, even if the professor's academic papers contain a boilerplate disclaimer.
Tim Kaine's position now is that Michaels is really something more like the University Climatologist, and the university's position is that they have nothing to do with this either, because there's an independent, outside, national climatology group that actually bestows the title. But the bottom line is that your money is paying for this guy's work, just as it pays for the research of any professor at a public college. And neither state government nor taxpayers should be in the business of dictating what kind of research professors undertake. But neither should professors take on or use titles that can only serve to mislead the public.
If Michaels wants to keep on taking money from anti-warming advocates, and if he wants to argue his side of the warming issue, that's fine--but he ought to have the good taste and ethical sense to drop the silly title and let his work speak for itself.
By Marc Fisher |
August 28, 2006; 8:18 AM ET
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