If this were a scientific study (it is not) the investigation would need a hypothesis and we would then look for evidence for and against that hypothesis. The objective would be to reach a conclusion about the likelihood the hypothesis was correct.
But what hypothesis would properly describe the issue? I have given this question considerable thought, and confess that I have come up empty. Here is my thinking:
- Research is funded by a variety of government agencies and non-government foundations and interest groups. The foundations and interest groups can be broadly categorized as having an agenda that matches their vision statements. One would expect an industry foundation to pursue an agenda that is different from, say, GreenPeace or the Sierra Club.
- A hypothesis that the source of funding would bias the results of the research would require an auditor to review the research, find evidence of errors in data gathering, data processing and/or data analysis, identify a pattern in those errors that favors the agenda of the funding agency, and attribute that pattern to a decision on the part of the researcher to shade his results to match the funding agency. This is beyond my capability.
- Instead of looking for bias at the level of individual research projects, one could look simply at the availability of funding for various types of global warming research. Again, though, what question would you ask? What is the control group for a null hypothesis that you would use for comparison? I hear anecdotes, for example that failing to slip the words "climate change" into requests for funding in biology research dooms the application to rejection. But grant applications get rejected for lots of reasons, and one would have to crawl into the head of each board that reviews grants.
- Then there is the "dutiful soldier" defence. If an institution decides that global warming is probable, who would criticize someone for approving funds to either clarify its possible extent, or to research how to cope with the likely impacts? This is bias in the strictest sense of the word, but at the same time no sane administrator would approve funds for a study based on "nothing will change, and we will need to prepare for unprecedented levels of sameness." The availability of funds tells us nothing useful.
- So what about tabulating research results and trying to draw a conclusion based on how many studies support one view or another? Well, this turns into science by consensus, and we should speak with Copernicus and Galileo about the validity of THAT approach.
- If one can not come up with a good clear-cut hypothesis, what other methods exist? I can think of only one: invert the problem and reverse the onus of proof. Premise - people operate in their self-interest. Whether consciously or not, human nature leads us to conform our actions to the prevailing wisdom of the times.
- This, not surprisingly, reminds us that we are ALL biased, and that our actions are colored by our beliefs about the world. This is demonstrably true in religion, politics, investment markets and entertainment, and the list will go on and on.
- So now the burden of proof shifts to the opposing position. Prove to the world that research into global warming is NOT biased by the source of funding. (Such a situation, I believe, would make it unique among human endeavors). Anyone want to give it a shot?