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Cullen Hendrix @cullenhendrix
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A couple of thoughts on the supposed "get rich quick" scheme that is climate change research. Let's look at the anatomy of a hypothetical $1 million federal grant to study climate change. 1/15
First, you need to know that approximately 50% goes straight to the principal investigator's (PI) institution in the form of overhead. Overhead is what universities use to fund everything from startup packages for new scientists to pay for research facilities. 2/15
Because social scientists' overhead costs are low--we don't need supercolliders or scientific laboratory space--this money is a bonus for the university (and a reason they like social scientists who can get grants). 3/15
At any rate, you are now talking about $500k. Let's say $180K goes to pay for a postdoctoral researcher, which is academic code for "top young scholar in a field who is not qualified (yet) for an assistant professorship, so who will do top-notch work for $60K plus benefits. 4/15
So, the postdoc is not getting rich. 5/15
Another $180-200K goes to support a two PhD students to work on the project for two years. This assume grad tuition waiver (i.e., university eats cost of their attending class). These PhD students are making somewhere between $25-35K per year. 6/15
So, the PhD students certainly aren't getting rich. 7/15
The PI now has about $120K to play with. Let's assume we just budget $60K for the PI and lab to take research trips to, you know, actually do the work in the field. 8/15
PI now has $60K. To work on the project, the PI now needs to "buy themselves out" of teaching: they need to pay their university to do research. If each class is 11% of their work load, one semester to do this research-15 weeks of time-costs $26K. Assuming $120k salary. 9/15
PI now has $34K, which funds two "summer months." Academics work year-round but are paid for only 9 mo of it, so academic writes in $26K for two summer months to top off salary. 10/15
PI had to slog through months of uncertainty and grant-writing to get an often once-in-a-successful career 7-figure grant. To have any chance of getting another, will need to demonstrate pathbreaking results. 11/15
Direct monetary benefit to the PI at the end of all this? $26K, before taxes.

So, you can see what they mean by "get rich quick." Two years + of the scientists life to make the kind of money mortgage brokers could make in a good month during housing boom. 12/15
Climate scientists do what they do for many reasons: knowledge, prestige, a desire to make the world a better place, the worst kind of celebrity imaginable. They don't do it to get rich. There's no drug patent at the end of figuring out how fast icebergs melt. 13/15
There's no significant monetizable IP in knowing how climate change might affect political stability in the Lake Chad basin. 14/15
This whole discussion just demonstrates how little many politicians--and the general public--knows about who climate scientists are and what motivates them. Here's a hint: it's not getting rich. fin. What did I miss? 15/15
These are rough numbers, but I think the point is clear.
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