Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I
Update 03/22/2010: Part II now available
Two of the more dubious claims related to climate research funding are:
1) Scientists are getting rich from research grants!
2) Scientists holding an anti-AGW viewpoint cannot get funding!
The first question can be answered by asking another question:
How many climate scientists are driving a Mercedes sports coupe or other $100,000+ car into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood?
Not convinced? I will delve deeper into claim #1 later in this post and also in a future post (Part II).
The second question is easier to answer. There are a few publishing scientists that strongly disagree with the established consensus that humans are the primary drivers of modern climate change and yet they seem to find funding without much difficulty. These include, among others, Dr. Richard S. Lindzen (MIT), Dr. John R. Christy (UAH), Dr. Roy Spencer (UAH/NASA), and Dr. William M. Gray (CSU). Wikipedia hosts a list of others and many of those scientists appear to be funded.
Fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil stand to lose revenue if carbon emissions are restricted so they certainly would dole out money to any scientist that was working on a landmark anti-AGW paper. Over the years, ExxonMobil alone has kicked in millions and millions of dollars to deny the science. Surely a company that showed a net profit of $45 billion in 2008 has a few dollars to spend on real anti-AGW research that has a much higher credibility rating than the anti-science information campaign that they have bankrolled since the mid-1990s.
Claim #2 is just plain nonsense!
Getting back to claim #1. Are scientists getting rich from grant funding? I will use myself as a case study in this post and, in Part II, I will write about others’ experiences.
I recall a lecture I gave on climate change back in April 2009. After I was finished, a gentleman told me that he though the whole thing was a hoax so that we scientists could get rich from funding. Before I even had a chance to reply, a voice from the crowd (my wife) yelled out, “Trust me, I can tell you, he isn’t making any money from this. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing!” The truth hurts, doesn’t it?
I am currently listed as a co-investigator (co-I) on a NASA grant proposal that is to be submitted this month. The principal investigator (PI) is a colleague of mine who I will call Prof. X and the grant budget is requesting $437,232.67 over a three year period. Funding from the proposal will be used to create a learning institute to educate secondary education teachers about climate change. These teachers will be trained to use climate data from NASA in order to incorporate the latest climate change science and data into their curricula. Essentially, NASA will be using some of its funds so that our children will become more informed.
Assuming the grant is approved, it would be easy for somebody doing a cursory scan of NASA grants to shout out that “Prof. X received a grant for $437,232. He is getting rich from research funding! No wonder he claims that humans are causing global warming. He is in it for the money!” Sound familiar? It is often the case where a climate scientist receives a large grant and then there are cries of outrage from those that have no idea of how the money gets spent.
Here is how the $437,232,67 from my grant will be spent over three years:
- Participant/Trainee Support Costs = $152,678.50 (135 teachers will participate over three years)
- Consulting Services = $4000 (To assess the curricula developed)
- Indirect Costs: $76,064.25 (Administrative fees and other fees that are not collected by those named on the grant)
- Direct Labor = $204,489.92
$204,489.92 is what the investigators on the grant are paid over three years. There are six (6) of us working on this grant. Three of us, including the PI, will receive the majority of that amount. I will receive $48,264.75 over three years ($16,088.25 per year). The PI will receive $49,175.31 over three years.
Imagine that! What appeared to be a grant for Prof. X for $437,232.67 really nets him $16,391.77 per year.
But, even that is very misleading. At Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) and many other institutions, grant money can only REPLACE teaching load. Grant money does not add to our salaries. For me, $16,088.25 per year equates to 11.8 credit hours of overload teaching. (Overload hours are those that go above the base salary of fifteen credit hours per semester. I typically teach 20 overload hours per year which is four classes.) Rounding to 12 hours, I will give up 2.5 classes per year in order to participate in this grant endeavor.
Bottom line: If the grant proposal is accepted, my W-2 will not change for year 2010. Instead of all of my salary coming from SCCC, most will come from SCCC and some will come from NASA.
Unfortunately, the Mercedes will have to wait a little longer.
Claim #1 is also nonsense! (Too bad for me.)
Part II will examine how grant budgets work at other institutions. Feel free to comment on this post and let me know about your grant experiences.