This September, I had occasion to travel by train from Budapest to Vienna. Finding an empty compartment, I prepared to settle in when a polite, tall man in his thirties asked if he and his companions could join me for the journey. He left and returned with two other gentlemen who all carefully made themselves comfortable as the train drew out of the station.
My companions appeared a cerebral lot. They started talking between themselves, though a bit stiffly at first. I gleaned they had been at a conference in Budapest and though they had attended separately were leaving as a thrown-together party.
I chose to keep my eyes on my book rather than engage with these apparently gentlemanly, but passing, strangers – but my ears unavoidably tuned to their conversation.
The youngest of the three, curly haired with a designer beard, was Danish. The man who first greeted me, thin and a little nervous, was Russian. The third, seated in the centre of the group, was older, more senior, and by the clipped precision of his voice either German or a Swede.
It was soon apparent that all three were academic scientists engaged in various researches connected to the phenomenon known as GLOBAL WARMING.
The German(?) began questioning his companions in a school-masterly manner. It was culturally unavoidable but also seemed to stress his importance in the pecking order.
The Dane began to explain with enthusiasm some of the wind farm projects in which he was involved. The projects roamed globally wide and he backed up his descriptions by opening his laptop and pointing to graphic diagrams.
The German turned to the Russian and asked about his work. A little defensively, the Russian explained he had been employed as a climatology lecturer in Russia but was now doing research work for a climate science institute.
'How many are involved?' asked the German. The Russian mumbled. 'Ten, a hundred, five hundred?' the German asked. 'I don't really know,' said the Russian. 'You see, I contribute remotely and just focus on my own work.' He too opened his laptop and searched for papers.
The German showed a little compassion. 'I see, I see. Well it's good you've found a niche. As long as they need your speciality I'm quite sure they'll continue to pay for your work.'
Now the German opened up his own laptop. He said, 'See, here this is the agenda of the lecture I gave in Ankara. And this for the conference in Cordoba. And this in Gothenburg.'
'There's a great deal of funding available now, you know.' 'There are many, many grants through the European Union.' 'You will have no trouble at all,' he said confidently.
The Dutchman got up to get some coffee. The Russian proffered an orange. And the three of them settled back for most of the rest of the journey, focusing on the laptops on their knees. Three grown-up boys playing with their tools.
When we arrived at Westbahnhof Station they thanked me for my companionship. Had I contributed just by listening? I was certainly thankful for this brief insight into the driving forces behind the scientific academic world.
My thoughts were that this was nice work if you could get it. Payment by the taxpayer, possibly for life, simply to produce endless paper displaying writing and diagrams. Oh, and the travel to far-flung locations to deliver research papers to similarly funded audiences. And getting papers published in peer-group publications, enhancing reputation, credibility, longevity, salary and retirement pension.
So, to me, the ongoing revelations emerging out of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University (the chief scientific advisers to DEFRA) are astoundingly, mind-blowingly shocking, but not unbelievably surprising.
They lead me to a further and obvious observation, that such research is linked not only to the receipt of taxpayer grants but also to the financial incentives of industry. And what an industry – a multi trillion dollar industry – who wouldn't want to guarantee a share of that?
There have been many instances of scientific fraud perpetrated in the historic past, but this one seems to take the chocolate biscuit.
...Go get 'em!