Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part II

with 15 comments

In Part I, I addressed the following two claims:

1)  Scientists are getting rich from research grants!

2)  Scientists holding an anti-AGW viewpoint cannot get funding! 

I then asked scientists from around the world to relate their experiences and if they were getting rich from grant funding.  Since Part I, I also did a little more digging and came up with some important information.  That information as well as a few examples from those that commented appear below.

Scientists holding an anti-AGW viewpoint cannot get funding!  

In Part I, I listed the names of several prominent anti-AGW scientists that have no difficulty getting funding.  Thanks to Bart Verheggen for directing me to this statement by Dr. Bas van Geel, UvA :

Professor Begemann’s claim that on universities it is not possible to present a different opinion about climate change in any case isn’t true for the University of Amsterdam. In my professional environment so far there nobody has ever tried to correct me (a skeptic with an opinion based on strong arguments)  In the past 10 years, neither did I ever have a problem with finding funding for research on the role of the sun on climate changes in the past. It is (also) because of this research I started having an alternative opinion on what’s going on with the present-day climate: I still believe that natural variability is much more important than changes caused by mankind.

I also wish to thank commenter Jay, for this contribution:

Will your analysis consider the implications (in terms of advancement, criticism by peers, etc.) of professors that are pro, neutral or con the agw theory?   Judith Curry comes to mind – it will be interesting to see where she goes now that she has moved towards the center.

Now THAT is a very good question for which I do not have an answer. This post is to rebut the money claim which is easy to do. I would never state that scientists are not human so there are always politics. I imagine that holding a strong opposing view might make one’s career path more difficult.  However, as pointed out several times already, many anti-AGW scientists appear to have little difficulty obtaining funding.

Scientists are getting rich from research grants!

I have personally heard this statement from several people and do see this statement from time to time in various blogs.  Thank to J Bowers for providing some examples.  More examples can be found here, here, here, here, and here, etc.  There are many more!

In the United States, it is essentially impossible to get rich from public funding for research because there are rules that forbid institutions from allowing that to happen.

According to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget CIRCULAR A-21 (Revised 8/8/00) Cost Principles for Educational Institutions:

d. Salary rates for faculty members.

  (1) Salary rates for academic year. Charges for work performed on sponsored agreements by faculty members during the academic year will be based on the individual faculty member’s regular compensation for the continuous period which, under the policy of the institution concerned, constitutes the basis of his salary. Charges for work performed on sponsored agreements during all or any portion of such period are allowable at the base salary rate. In no event will charges to sponsored agreements, irrespective of the basis of computation, exceed the proportionate share of the base salary for that period. This principle applies to all members of the faculty at an institution. Since intra-university consulting is assumed to be undertaken as a university obligation requiring no compensation in addition to full-time base salary, the principle also applies to faculty members who function as consultants or otherwise contribute to a sponsored agreement conducted by another faculty member of the same institution. However, in unusual cases where consultation is across departmental lines or involves a separate or remote operation, and the work performed by the consultant is in addition to his regular departmental load, any charges for such work representing extra compensation above the base salary are allowable provided that such consulting arrangements are specifically provided for in the agreement or approved in writing by the sponsoring agency.

  (2) Periods outside the academic year.

(a) Except as otherwise specified for teaching activity in subsection (b), charges for work performed by faculty members on sponsored agreements during the summer months or other period not included in the base salary period will be determined for each faculty member at a rate not in excess of the base salary divided by the period to which the base salary relates, and will be limited to charges made in accordance with other parts of this section. The base salary period used in computing charges for work performed during the summer months will be the number of months covered by the faculty member’s official academic year appointment.

(b) Charges for teaching activities performed by faculty members on sponsored agreements during the summer months or other periods not included in the base salary period will be based on the normal policy of the institution governing compensation to faculty members for teaching assignments during such periods.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in their Grant Proposal Guide Chapter 2 Section C part g (budget):

“Grant funds may not be used to augment the total salary or rate of salary of faculty members during the period covered by the term of faculty appointment or to reimburse faculty members for consulting or other time in addition to a regular full-time organizational salary covering the same general period of employment.”

THESE DOCUMENTS VERY CLEARLY SHOW THAT PUBLIC MONEY CANNOT MAKE FACULTY RICH.

Below are excerpts of a few replies sent by scientists relating their grant funding experience:

University of South Florida:

I am a professor at a major research university (Carnegie top 60 in annual research dollars). My contract for my  position is for 19.5 pay periods, each two weeks long. For the remaining 6.5 pay periods, I am paid from other sources, if I get grants. There is some summer teaching available, but not much.

 Summer research cannot pay me more than my usual biweekly pay rate times 6.5 pay periods, no matter how many grants I get. That is, my pay maximizes out once I get enough grant dollars for 6.5 pay periods. However, if I am getting Federal grant dollars, I can only be paid for 2 months in the summer, max, again no matter how many grants I get. It is not possible for any research institution that receives Federal research dollars to pay researchers more than their normal biweekly pay during summer, no matter where the actual grant dollars come from. So if NSF gives me five grants with full summer salary in each grant budget, I can’t pay myself five times my normal salary.

 Research dollars for basic research are very hard to come by. The success rate for grant applications at NSF in the Earth sciences is 5-20%, depending on the division. Mine, hydrology, has a success rate of about 5-10%. Climate change research hasn’t really become a separate discipline at the main funding agencies. You submit climate change proposals to the same old agency divisions and compete with non-climate change proposals. The Dept of Energy has put forward some large requests for proposals, but despite the large budgets, the salary restrictions are the same. I partnered with an electrical utility to submit a proposal to conduct a pilot CO2 sequestration study. The total budget was $6.5 million, but I would not have gotten more than my normal salary. Most of the money went for drilling several deep wells and for subcontracts with oil-drilling service companies to conduct tests on the wells.

 No one gets rich on climate change research, unless they are getting their dollars as consultants from Exxon or Peabody. If anyone responds to your request and says how to get rich on grant dollars, please forward their ideas, as I don’t see how it is possible.

Boston University School of Medicine:

Yes, at academic institutions, salaries are set by the institution. A grant saves the university money, but it does not put money in my pocket. It may help me indirectly–getting grants is good for advancement, which will move me into a higher salary scale, but academic salaries top out at levels that are decent, but still modest compared to what say, corporate executives or lawyers make. Nobody gets wealthy off of grants. Converting grant money to personal use is not easy to do even if you are dishonest, because as far as the university is concerned, that money belongs to them, not you, and you are only administrating it. So they keep pretty close track of where the dollars go. Perhaps you can winkle a couple of meeting junkets a year, or a better computer than you would be able to afford otherwise, but that’s about it. Scientists who are wealthy have made their money from patents, or consulting, or they started a successful company.

The State University of New York at Stony Brook:

I did my Ph.D. in a group with several climate scientists, my Ph.D. advisor is noted climate scientist.

And I was financially successful using the skills I learned. As soon as I went to Wall Street.

I retired at 50 and now enjoy teaching part time in Stony Brook University‘s Quantitative Finance program. If you come across anyone particularly good at climate science who wants a career with significant compensation opportunity, you can advise them to look into programs like ours. Many of the skills from climate science translate pretty well to quantitative finance.

Australia:

ARC grants in Australia are quite prestigious and mostly go to Universities and government research institutions. There are various categories of grants. This page lists the salaries:
http://www.arc.gov.au/applicants/salaries.htm.

ARC grants are probably at the more generous end of the scale to grants from other funding bodies, such as industry research funding bodies.

As you can see, the salaries are not exorbitant by any stretch of the imagination and are often/generally below the salaries paid to scientists in government funded positions and private corporations. I don’t have a list of comparable salaries paid by government agencies, but job advertisements or public sector/university websites in Australia might be used for comparison.

In Australia, research grants are never paid in addition to normal salary. They are only paid to fund extra positions required for the research, or to fund equipment and sometimes facilities or other capital items.

Government research institutions do not normally permit scientists to earn money outside their salary from work-related activities and most grants are for equipment and additional temporary staff.

Universities used to allow staff to earn extra funding from private activities such as consulting, but most these days either limit personal earnings from such activity or prohibit it. In any case, it has no relationship to research grants.

Where does the money go if not into scientists pockets?

As shown in Part I, grant money is spread out among many budget line items.  Some of these include:

  • Capital Expenditures (satellites, buildings, labs, field structures, etc.)
  • Research Equipment
  • Supplies
  • Administrative Costs
  • Graduate Student Support (tuition reimbursement, stipend, conferences, etc.)

When I was a graduate student at Penn State between the years 1987 and 1990, grant money paid my full tuition, monthly stipend, and all equipment needed to do my research.  My officemates and I estimated that about $100,000 was spent on each of us over three years.  At least $400,000 of the grant we were working under went to graduate student support.  These figures must be much higher today due to inflation, especially rising tuition costs.

Marty, in this comment, sums up the reality:

Go to a local public research university. Find the faculty parking lot. Drive around and count the Mercedes and other luxury cars. Count the fuel efficient economy cars. That should give you a good idea of what is really happening.

I drive a Chevrolet Aveo with 140,000 miles on it.

Apparently, the most famous climate scientist on the planet, Dr. James Hansen, is still driving a ten-year old Volvo! 

Feel free to add your own experiences in the comment section

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Written by Scott Mandia

March 22, 2010 at 5:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. […] in Uncategorized « A Side of Rat Feces? (A History Lesson) Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part II […]

  2. Hi Scott,

    I’m with you in every way but I am not sure that OMB Circ. A.21 j.10.d “d. Salary rates for faculty members” says that faculty cannot be reimbursed for overtime (god knows I was writing a report at 4 am this morning, having started at 9 am the previous day. I took a break at 8 pm to eat and play 30 minutes of table tennis with my 10 y.o.). If I do extra teaching — over and above my usual load — I get paid for the overload. That is, overtime. So why would I not expect remuneration if I perform research services over and above my normal duties.

    We have tried to get OMB to say what that appallingly-worded paragraph actually means — but have not yet been successful. It seems to me that you can read it like this:

    ” (1) Salary rates for academic year. Charges for work performed on sponsored agreements by faculty members during the academic year will be based on the individual faculty member’s regular compensation for the continuous period which, under the policy of the institution concerned, constitutes the basis of his salary. Charges for work performed on sponsored agreements during all or any portion of such period are allowable at the base salary rate.”

    Additional charges for salary [on federal grants] are ALLOWED AT THE BASE RATE. That is, charges are ALLOWED but you cannot hire yourself at a new RATE (say, at a Wall St. rate, $150k/month FTE!). That’s the first part. The second part:

    “In no event will charges to sponsored agreements, irrespective of the basis of computation, exceed the proportionate share of the base salary for that period. This principle applies to all members of the faculty at an institution. Since intra-university consulting is assumed to be undertaken as a university obligation requiring no compensation in addition to full-time base salary, the principle also applies to faculty members who function as consultants or otherwise contribute to a sponsored agreement conducted by another faculty member of the same institution.”

    implies that it is referring to INTRA-university consulting; but what about pure overtime? Shouldn’t an individual be remunerated for work over the 100% mark? What about the loss of time with family — is that just part of the deal? Why should scientists work harder for less? This is AMERICA, you know, land of opportunity and rewards for hard work. Doesn’t it make more sense for a researcher to be paid overtime AT THE BASE RATE, rather than have to start a consulting firm to recoup losses (I don’t have one — this seems less transparent than simply being paid for work directly — but some faculty do).

    Why would this be overtime? Well what if you work at a teaching institution? Running two large grants isn’t additional? Perleeze. It’s like running a small business — on top of your usual load (OK, released time does help; without that you’re probably looking at serious fees from an analyst and a d-i-v-o-r-c-e).

    Anyway, we tried to contact the relevant expert at OMB (Gil Tran) to ask about the plain English meaning of the beast but have no definitive reply yet. Perhaps you interpretation of Circ. A.21 j.10.d is correct — let us all know if you are absolutely sure!

    HOWEVER, in spite of all this, NO-ONE is getting anywhere close to “rich”! That idea just engenders wry smiles or ironic laughter (translation 4 millennials: “Scientists getting rich from research grants? ROTFL!!!”).

    Mark

    April 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

    • As with most goverment documents nobody is really sure. LOL. I think it comes down to how your individual institution determines your normal schedule.

      Charges for teaching activities performed by faculty members on sponsored agreements during the summer months or other periods not included in the base salary period will be based on the normal policy of the institution governing compensation to faculty members for teaching assignments during such periods.

      The “or other periods” could be defined by your institution as “additional hours” during a day that is not considered “normal” but is not summer. How well-liked are you there? That may be the determinant. :)

      Scott Mandia

      April 30, 2010 at 10:19 am

  3. Ha ha! Yes, maybe it was deliberately made vague and incomprehensible to mere English-speaking mortals in order to allow “flexibility” in interpretation by the higher-ups (or possibly to ensure jobs for attorneys). But it is a federal law, so it should apply to all institutions and faculty equitably, if not equally (principle of the level playing field). At research universities faculty have lots of time allocated to research (i.e., less teaching!) so your interpretation of OMB Circ. A.21 j.10.d might hold — but what about the guy who does a lot of research AND a lot of teaching? I’m not complaining about my lot (oh wait, yes I am — but not bitterly).

    Mark

    April 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

  4. I can just echo what has been said here and in my comments on ‘part I’. In Canada, NSERC is the peak source of government research grants for researchers in the natural sciences. NSERC Discovery Grant funds can be spent essentially as listed above in other posted comments; no salary for the grant holder, and no teaching buy-out – just equipment, economy airfare to conferences etc., and salaries for temporary support staff, graduate student support etc. I know, as I just filed 2 travel costs reports, that every dollar I spend is scrutinized by my university’s accountant responsible for grant oversight; she just disallowed a carwash charge ($6) as it wasn’t allowed under the rules!

    The explanation of what costs are eligible under NSERC and related Canadian govt research funding are here: http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/FinancialAdminGuide-GuideAdminFinancier/FundsUse-UtilisationSubventions_eng.asp

    I liked the university carpark suggestion. For the record I drive a 10 year old Volvo with over 160,000km on the meter. I bought it used. And we’re a one-car family and live in a fairly modest house. I am most certainly not ‘getting rich’ from climate change research.

    Mandia: Thanks for dropping by and offering more support for this thread. I am sorry you are not getting rich. :)

    David Greenwood

    June 30, 2010 at 11:37 am

    • There are many ways to be ‘rich’. I think the problems we face with AGW are symptomatic of a broader malaise in our society where we value material wealth above all else. Don’t get me wrong; I’d like a new car (preferrably electric), a nice house, and yes, a big screen TV. I think I am ‘rich’ in that my profession has taken me across the world as part of my research – from the soon to be gone tundra of Canada’s Arctic, to the steamy tropical rainforests of New Guinea, and the stark beauty of Australia’s deserts. And I’ve worked in great institutions in Australia, the US, and Canada, and had the privelege to teach some wonderfully gifted yound future scientists. And most importantly, a great family and great friends, both in my profession and outside it. On that last point, I think it is salient to note that most scientists get along with their peers (note I said ‘most’), even those we disagree with on topics like AGW. I have close colleagues who are staunch AGW skeptics. We have civil but heated debates on the topic. What isn’t ‘rich’ about my life is the shrill sometimes abusive attacks scientists like myself have suffered from some commentators on the skeptics side of the discussion. Disagreement is normal in science and argument (in the sense of debate) is part of the process. Bombastic ideologically driven agendas are not part of science but are part of the public ‘debate’ over AGW. This character of the discourse on AGW threatens the public’s trust in science. There is a great article in this week’s issue of Nature on this topic, with some pleasant good news; seems ordinary folk CAN see through the BS. Nice thought to end the week on.

      David Greenwood

      June 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      • Thanks for another “setting the record straight comment”. Your comments prove what I have stated many times: Scientists are in it for the curiosity factor and to help mankind. They are not “in it for the gold”.

        Scott A Mandia

        June 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm

  5. Hi Scott

    I think if we scientists were motivated by money, we would never have gone to grad school! Anyone with a PhD will testify that they would have been better off financially had they not gone into science. The few exceptions have benefitted from patents (e.g. big pharma), rarely a book deal (writing textbooks won’t make you rich), or getting onto company boards (like some skeptics … Dr Ian Plimer is on several mining company boards: http://www.prwatch.org/node/8686 ).

    David Greenwood

    July 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm

  6. We faculty are really rich. I’ve had two sabbaticals where I’ve worked a total of 21 months in Europe. While I was there I also gave lectures throughout the continent and I was generally given a bed to sleep on and reumbursement for my train ticket.

    I walked to work each day and used a bicycle for shopping. For the second sabbatical, my wife was able to take an unpaid leave of absence, so she was the one who rode her bicycle to the shops. It was a real blast working 70 hours a week in the lab and then taking a few weeks off to visit colleagues from different countries with sightseeing along the way. I can’t immagine that a retired multimillionaire could have had such a good time during a European vacation.

    Mandia: Yes, but I bet they were brand new, very expensive bicycles! You scientists are so lucky to be getting all that cash.

    BillD

    October 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm

  7. […] Font size: Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part Iwith 32 commentsUpdate 03/22/2010: Part II now availableby Scott Mandia, “Global Warming — Man or Myth?” blog, March 11, […]

  8. […] Scientists cannot get rich from public grant funding.  I blogged about that fallacy here and here. […]

  9. Dr James Hansen could afford a new car, or even a private jet with the extra money that he makes. Dr. Hansen received between $236,000 and $1,232,500 in outside income in 2010 relating to his taxpayer-funded employment.

    see here: http://www.atinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ATI-NASA-Hansen-SF-278-2010.pdf

    hyperzombie

    October 11, 2011 at 9:38 am

  10. hyperzombie: did you mistake Dr. Hansen’s phone number as his income? I looked at the SF-278 and could not see anything like the numbers you cite. Perhaps you included the items in the Examples rows as actual income? They are _examples, not actual data. It looks to me as if he has some investment income in addition to salary, then received some prizes for his (not insubstantial) contributions to science. If I have mis-read the form perhaps you could highlight some of the salient quantities?

    Melty

    October 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

  11. […] which I assume is a separate category from "reasonable researchers". Taking the Money for Grant(ed) Peddling global warming fears puts big money in pockets of climate researchers $100 Million in […]

  12. […] (aka defrauding the grantor). Physical science professor Scott Mandia wrote two posts at his blog describing exactly how this works. Essentially, principal investigators have their salary reduced by some amount to account for the […]


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