Climate Science: Only True Believers Need Apply?

Almost 10 years ago one of the major figures in the “mainstream” climate science world confided off the record to me that the biggest problem at his prestige graduate department of physics was convincing first-rate students to take up climate science as their specialty field.  The best students were avoiding the subject precisely because it had become too politicized and too conformist—a career dead end.  And so the field is left to a lot of second-raters, and people from tangential scientific disciplines. An entirely typical example is the recently resigned head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, typically described in the media as the UN’s “top climate scientist.” He is a railroad engineer.  If you look at a lot of the technical literature about climate change, it becomes apparent that it is dominated by second-raters, or first-rate ranters like Michael Mann.

This came back to mind this week with this story from the Economic Times of India lamenting the shortage of good climate scientists:

The facts should speak for themselves. The Divecha Centre for Climate Change, at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, is organising a national conference on climate change in July. The deadline for submitting abstracts is just two weeks away, and the organisers have received too few quality abstracts of papers for the conference.  The message is quite clear: not enough people work on climate change in India.

Till recently, Govindasamy Bala, a professor at the centre involved in organising the conference, thought this was uniquely an Indian problem. But a news story in the journal Nature early this month told him that it was not the case. The story talked about the shortage of good climate scientists in the world, and the efforts of some climatologists to attract more physicists and mathematicians to their field.  “I was surprised to learn that shortage of good climate scientists is a global problem,” says Bala.

Most talented physicists generally get attracted to particle physics or cosmology or condensed matter physics, high profile areas that generate Nobel Prizes with regularity.

Eric Worrall comments over at WattsUpWthThat:

The issue, in my opinion, makes perfect sense if you think about it. If you are a talented graduate, bursting with intellectual potential, would you like to work in an intolerant field of research, where new ideas are punished by name calling, ostracism and financial hardship, or would you prefer to apply your talents to a field where new ideas are welcome, and innovation is rewarded?

And so the field of climate science has become a ghetto that is the scientific equivalent of gender studies: the sensible questions that deserve independent and open-minded inquiry are drowned out in a stifling orthodoxy.